Widow of South African slain in Yemen raid speaks of forgiveness

Widow of South African slain in Yemen raid speaks of forgiveness
Yolanda Korkie, widow of South African hostage Pierre Korkie, battles tears at a news conference on Dec. 9 in Johannesburg as her husband's body was returned from Yemen. (Mujahid Safodien / AFP/Getty Images)

Yolande Korkie allowed herself to imagine embracing her husband, schoolteacher Pierre Korkie, when she was told Saturday he was about to be freed by militants holding him hostage in Yemen and would be home by Christmas.

Instead, she received his remains Tuesday at South Africa's Waterkloof military airbase.


Yet most of her words, following the return of his body after a failed rescue mission last week, were of thanks.

"I visualized something different, him holding me in his arms, hearing his soft voice," she said. "This morning, there was intense emotions of longing. We will never have him physically again, but in our hearts he will never die."

Speaking with quiet dignity, at times fighting tears, Korkie was thankful to the U.S., which flew the body home, to the Gift of the Givers, the humanitarian organization that did all it could to free him, and above all, she was thankful for the time she and her family had with her husband.

"It's a special gift to have his remains and have closure," she said.

Pierre Korkie and fellow hostage Luke Somers died in a raid Saturday carried out by U.S. commandos attempting to rescue Somers, believing his life was in danger. U.S. officials have said they didn't know Korkie was with Somers, or that a deal had been reached with the militant group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to free him on Sunday.

Members of Somers' family blamed the special forces raid for his death, saying that he would still be alive if not for the failed rescue attempt.

But Yolande Korkie offered forgiveness to all involved, saying that dwelling on how her husband died would not bring him back.

"What will it help to accuse? Will it bring Pierre back? Never," she told journalists at the airbase. "We choose to let it go."

Forgiveness "would be his story today and that would be what he would want to say."

She and her husband went to Yemen to work, he as a teacher and she as a volunteer at hospitals. They were both kidnapped by the Al Qaeda faction in May 2013. Yolande Korkie was freed in January.

"If it was not for him, I would never have made it through captivity," she said. "My last memories of Pierre: We held each other. He was already deaf, but he said I love you and tell the children I love them."

Korkie said she had no regrets about going to Yemen with her husband to help people living in poverty.

"We have lost, but one can never regret when you have lived with people that have nothing. This is God's will," she said, of her husband's death.

"My husband has a heart for poor people. The poverty made us spring into action when we arrived. Everything that happened is something we need to work through, but we truly forgive our captors unconditionally."


Pierre Korkie's body is to undergo an autopsy. He will be buried Friday after a memorial service.

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