3 August 2017

Mali: Al-Qaeda Releases South African Hostage Held in Mali Since 2011

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.

Stephen McGowan is the last of three friends to be released by al-Qaeda after they were abducted from Timbuktu, while touring Mali on motorbikes. Upon his return home, South Africa said no ransom was paid.

A South African who had been held hostage by al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been released and is back home. South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on Thursday confirmed Stephen McGowan was released on July 29.

He is undergoing medical checks but has "no major injuries," she told a news conference.

"We would like to warmly welcome him back home and wish him good health, good fortune in his life as a free man. It is with sadness though, that his dear mother... passed on in May 2017 without seeing her son back home," Nkoana-Mashabane said.

No ransom was paid to secure McGowan's release, she added.

McGowan's return home comes just over a month after the release of his Swedish friend Johan Gustafsson, who was abducted alongside the South African from a Timbuktu restaurant. The kidnappers had demanded $5 million dollars (4.2 million euros) for Gustafsson's release but it was rejected by the government, the Swedish Radio said.

A third hostage, Sjaak Rijke of the Netherlands, was freed in 2015 in a raid by French special forces. During the initial kidnapping, a German man was shot when he refused to cooperate.

McGowan was last seen in a video that emerged a month ago. He appeared dejected, unsure if he would ever be released.

"It's a long time to be away," he said. "Until when do you think this will come to an end? Now we're making a new video, but I don't know what to say. It's all been said in the past. It's all been said in previous videos I've made."Read more : What is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have been responsible for dozens of kidnappings of Westerners and scores of attacks on security forces across West Africa.

They began as a spin-off from an Islamist movement that fought Algeria's government in the 1990s and now are active in Northern Mali.

ap/rt (Reuters, AFP)

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