McGown family happy to see son alive

2015-06-26 05:34
(AQIM, Al-Jazeera)

(AQIM, Al-Jazeera)

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SA's Stephen McGown held hostage by al-Qaeda pleads 'help me'

2015-06-23 14:32

After much silence, a video has emerged of South African hostage Steve McGowan, who was kidnapped in 2011 from a hotel in Timbuktu, Mali.WATCH

Johannesburg - The father of kidnapped South African Stephen McGown was happy to see his son in good health, and even still in possession of his watch and wedding ring.

"Normally, I think these guys take people and they strip all their valuables, their cellphones, anything and everything else," Malcolm McGown told News24.

"Yes, it's good to see him alive like that but one obviously says its three years, seven months. He needs to come home, he needs to be negotiated out of there."

Earlier on Thursday, disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers Foundation said it had agreed to assist the McGown family in securing Stephen's release.

"It is well understood that in situations like these there are no guarantees of success.  It has been a very tough and trying time for the family having waited 3 years and 7 months already since that fateful day of capture on November 25, 2011 in Mali," founder Imtiaz Sooliman said in a statement.

"A constructive effort has to be made to connect with the captors in order to commence meaningful dialogue. Till now the McGown family does not know who the real captors are, what are the demands, where Stephen is held and who to communicate with."

"We face that same dilemma on behalf of the McGown family but are putting systems into place to initiate that opening contact with the captors."

Good health

On Sunday, a video was uploaded onto YouTube showing Stephen and fellow captive Swede Johan Gustafson in apparent good health.

McGown and Gustafson were kidnapped, along with several other Westerners, by armed men from their hotel in Timbuktu.

The two men sported beards and are wearing traditional robes sitting under a tree in the video.

In the video, McGown thanks South Africa’s government and his family for the efforts made to rescue him. He also reiterates his plea for assistance in his release.

His father said the family have reached the stage where they would almost take any chances.

"The one thing I said from the beginning, we don't want guys running in there with guns and that. Sjaak Rijke, the Hollander, was just very fortunate that they got him out," he said.

"But if you say that's one out, two to go, the chances are the guys will be much more aware now and keeping very close watch and whether they've separated them."

"If one goes on the timeline of 6th of April, it would appear, because Stephen says, and to my wife, our wedding anniversary was just five, six, seven days ago, that puts it to about the 6th of April. The 6th of April was in fact Easter Monday when the French went in and managed to get Sjaak Rijke out."

Huge demands

McGown said if the video was taken that day, the kidnappers, believed to be al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), may have already known about Rijke if Stephen and Gustafson were being held at a different camp.

"There was no mention of Sjaak Rijke in this particular video. Obviously, after that time, they had time to crop it or do whatever they wanted to do with it," he said.

"It's good they still sent it out and hopefully that's a sign they're now ready to negotiate. We hope."

McGown said the kidnappers had made huge demands, "sort of up in Nkandla-sort of style. That's the conversion to rands".

"If they put out any demand to the family it would have to be really realistic. As it is, Sjaak was just a train driver, the other chap, Johan Gustafson, well you can say he was unemployed. He was in banking, like my son, who left the bank as well, he's unemployed," McGown said.

The demands were apparently in the millions of dollars.

Korkie release

Sooliman said McGown had contacted him in February last year after the Gift of the Givers had secured Yolande Korkie's unconditional release from al-Qaeda in Yemen.

"He asked if at some stage we could try and assist him secure his son's release. He further went on to say that in no way does he want to distract us from focusing on Pierre Korkie's release and that he will wait until that issue reaches conclusion as it would not be fair to Yolande," Sooliman said.

"He said he understood her difficulty. I could feel the pain and the hurt in this man's voice and would have loved to help him immediately but two complicated hostage situations at once would be irrational. During the year Malcolm called several times to wish us well in trying to secure Pierre's release."

It took 11 months and soon after the "tragic incident" of Pierre's passing on December 6 last year, Sooliman called Malcolm to say that his Johannesburg office manager was on his way to visit their office in Mauritania and that he could use that opportunity to see if something could be done for his son.

"My office manager, Allauddin Sayed, tried in numerous ways to contact many people in Mauritania but most of the influential people were away for the December period.  Over the next three months everyone promised assistance, exactly as in Yemen, but to no avail."

New opportunity

The Gift of the Givers had opted to work through Mauritania as they had an office there. Interactions in Mali had to be done through the Mauritania office as Gift of the Givers were unknown entities in the country.

"Who was going to trust us in Mali?  Who was going to assist us?  We had to work through Mauritania but even there at every turn we reached a dead end."

However, a new opportunity had presented itself through the latest video released by McGown's captors, with it appearing to have been made in April 2015.

"In the last 12 hours we have commenced some significant face-to-face meetings with spiritual and tribal leaders in West Africa and are busy with other initiatives which we will make public soon," Sooliman said.

"In the meantime we will welcome any assistance from any individual locally or internationally. Through this media release we are requesting the captors to make direct contact with Gift of the Givers who are acting on behalf of the McGown family."

Read more on:    aqim  |  gift of the givers  |  mali  |  west africa  |  abductions

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