JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Pierre Korkie was supposed to be released Sunday from 18 months of captivity in Yemen under a deal struck by an aid group.
Instead, his widow is mourning her "dearest friend and companion ... torn from me and the children" when he was killed Saturday along with American photojournalist Luke Somers during a U.S.-led rescue attempt. Ten al-Qaida miltants also were slain in the raid, Yemeni security officials said.
About 40 U.S. special operations forces were involved in the half-hour rescue attempt in Shabwa province, which followed U.S. drone strikes in the area east of the capital of Sanaa, U.S. officials said. After a firefight with militants, the rescuers eventually reached the men and found them alive but gravely wounded. They both died shortly after as medics tried to save them.
Korkie's body is being flown back to South Africa and is scheduled to arrive Monday, the government said. Yolande Korkie said in a statement that will help her and the couple's two children, Peter and Lize, reach "some sort of closure."
The Yemeni security officials who confirmed the deaths of the al-Qaida militants spoke Sunday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
President Barack Obama said he ordered the raid because Somers was believed to be in "imminent danger." On Thursday, al-Qaida released a video showing Somers and threatening to kill him in three days if the U.S. did not meet the group's unspecified demands.
No American forces were killed or seriously injured in the raid. Yemen's government said four of its forces were wounded.
Korkie was kidnapped in the Yemeni city of Taiz in May 2013, along with his wife, Yolande, who was doing relief work there. She was released in January without ransom as a result of negotiations by the South African humanitarian relief group Gift of the Givers.
Before the rescue attempt, tribal leaders in the Yemeni city of Aden were preparing to fetch Korkie. His captors dropped their ransom fee of $3 million after realizing that Korkie and the negotiators had no money. Instead, Gift of the Givers had raised a $200,000 "facilitation fee" for the tribal leaders working directly with the al-Qaida militants to release Korkie.
"I think they realized after 11 months that we were not lying," said Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the relief group. "How can a teacher from an ordinary South African family raise that kind of money? He's an ordinary guy from a farm."
In her statement, Yolande Korkie chose not to blame anyone for her husband's death.
"Will we win anything if we hate and accuse? Will this return Pierre to us? No," she said.
"So today we choose to forgive. We choose to love. We choose to rejoice in the memories of Pierre and keep him alive in our hearts," she added.
The health of the 56-year-old teacher had deteriorated rapidly in captivity. He suffered partial deafness, a hernia, kidney damage and problems with his urinary system.
Gift of the Givers came to the aid of the Korkies after it learned the couple had been kidnapped where the group ran a famine relief program. Sooliman says the al-Qaida militants at first believed they were Americans.
A Yemeni national working for Gift of the Givers led the negotiation with al-Qaida, working with Ebrahim Ebhrahim, South Africa's former deputy foreign minister, and tribal leaders.
"We said, 'keep a very soft tone, build trust, build relationships, show them the work we have done,'" Sooliman said.
He said he does not blame the U.S. government, saying it was only trying to save Korkie and Somers.
Yolande Korkie thanked Gift of the Givers and the Yemeni tribes who directly negotiated with his al-Qaida captors.
The South African government said it had sent its "deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Korkie for their loss. Condolences are also conveyed to the family and loved ones of the deceased American hostage."
AP writer Ahmed Al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.