17 May 2017

South Africa: SA Hostage in Mali Marks 2000 Days in Captivity

Photo: Gift of the Givers Foundation
Screenshot of a video released in December 2015 delivering proof of life for South African citizen Stephen McGowan. McGowan was abducted by al-Qaeda operatives in Mali during November 2011.

More than five years after her son was captured by a rebel group in Mali, Stephen McGown's ailing mother wants him freed before she takes her last breath, Gift of the Givers said.

Wednesday marks 2000 days in captivity for McGown and Swedish national Johan Gustafsson. al-Qaeda in Mali had been holding them captive since November 2011.

"A dying mother hoping to see her son before her last breath, a young wife awaiting union with her husband with hope in her heart, sisters yearning for brotherly love - no human can understand this except those who are victims of a similar anguish," the foundation's chairperson and founder Imtiaz Sooliman said in a statement.

The men's families appointed Gift of the Givers on June 23, 2015, to try and secure their release.

They sent a negotiator, Mohamed Yehia Dicko, into various regions of Mali and Niger to find to people who could help. Dicko went in eight times and spent 100 days travelling 700km in the deepest rural regions to achieve a breakthrough, Sooliman said.

He found two intermediaries who had a history of negotiating with al-Qaeda in Mali. They agreed to put forward their case.

Sooliman said they tried every effort to secure unconditional release by appealing to the goodwill of tribal and religious leaders. They tried to win over the rural populations through the humanitarian services they provided and succeeding in convincing the intermediaries to put in a good word for them.

All they achieved was reducing the ransom request from 20m to 8.5m euros, which neither family could afford to pay.

Since the organisation started negotiating for the two, it had emphasised that it had no ransom money to pay.

"We have reached a dead end."

The two families appealed to the King of Qatar to intervene. Sooliman said the king had been successful in negotiating the release of many a hostage at the behest of diverse governments.

"In the event we are not successful in this endeavour and the captors still refuse an unconditional release, then the stark and unfortunate reality is that these two innocent family members are never coming home."

Sooliman called on governments, organisations, or anyone with influence to help.

"It's painful to witness the desperation and prolonged suffering of these two families," he added.

He said they had not made progress in finding South African photojournalist, Shiraaz Mohamed who was captured in Syria 127 days ago.

No group had come forward nor were there any demands, he said.

Source: News24

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