On Saturday, South African teacher Pierre Korkie was going to be released by al Qaeda's Yemen branch for $200,000 in ransom, according to the South African charity that had worked 18 months to secure his freedom. U.S. officials say the American government didn't know about those negotiations when President Obama ordered the Friday night commando raid in which Korkie and his American cellmate, photojournalist Luke Somers, were killed by their captors.
"We were not aware in advance about any release plans for other hostages," an unidentified U.S. official told The New York Times. "That was not part of our planning." America's ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, similarly told The Associated Press that the U.S. was "unaware of ongoing negotiations that had any resolution," and that it's not clear South Africa knew, either. "We were just completely unaware of those developments and had to act hastily," Gaspard added, since U.S. intelligence believed al Qaeda was about to kill Somers.
At least 11 other people were killed in the nocturnal raid, including a woman, a 10-year-old boy, and a local al Qaeda leader Reuters reports, citing villagers and the social media feeds of known militants. Local witnesses say that Yemen's military participated in the raid. The crossed wires over the Korkie negotiations highlights "the dangerous disconnect that can occur when civilians are left to negotiate hostage releases on their own," says The New York Times' Rukmini Callimachi. Unlike many European countries, the U.S. and South Africa have strict policies against paying ransom to terrorists.