Nearly 18 months, a team of civilians in South Africa worked to achieve what their government had been not able to do: arrange the release of a South African couple held by al-Qaida in the terrorist desert of southern Yemen. In January, the civilian negotiators thrived in obtaining the release of the woman, Yolande Korkie. And in recent weeks, they got confirmation that the terrorist group had accepted to free her husband, Pierre Korkie, in return for a $200,000 ransom.
On Saturday morning, a line of cars was set to leave the southern Yemeni city of Aden to pick up the 54-year-old captive from the remote outpost where he was being held. At 6am in Johannesburg, Imtiaz Sooliman, the director of the aid group that had led the long attempt, sent a text message to Mrs Korkie: "The waiting is almost over". At 8.03am his phone rang with unintelligible: Korkie was dead.