Gift of the Givers tries to make contact with SA man's captors

2015-07-23 18:49
Stephen McGown. (AQIM, Al-Jazeera)

Stephen McGown. (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 - Humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers said on Thursday that it was hoping that the captors of South African national Stephen Malcolm McGown and Swedish citizen Johan Gustafson would soon make contact.

Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman said they had sent a negotiator to Mali where the two men have been held captive, reportedly by al-Qaeda, since November 2011.

"We have our man there and we are trying to let the captors know that we have sent someone they can trust, someone who is neutral and honest, who is from [their] area," said Sooliman.

"We want them to know that they can feel comfortable talking to us and we want them to know who we are and to check what it is we do," he said.

Sooliman said he was first approached by McGown's dad, Malcolm, last year, as his organisation tried to ensure the safe release of Pierre Korkie, another South African who was held captive by al-Qaeda in Yemen at the time.

"Malcolm said he didn't want to distract from the Korkie process, but would appreciate help," said Sooliman.

Pierre Korkie and his wife Yolande were captured in May 2013.

She was released eight months later and returned to South Africa as Gift of the Givers negotiated her husband's release.

'It was almost as if that video was talking to me'

Korkie and American photographer Luke Somers were, however, killed during an attempt by the US special forces to free them from their al-Qaeda captors on December 6.

At the time, the Gift of the Givers had already secured a deal with al-Qaeda for Korkie's release.

Sooliman said following Korkie's death, his organisation still could not assist McGown due to incidents such as the xenophobic attacks and the Nepal earthquake at the time. The Gift of the Givers assisted with both incidents.

Last month, however, a video showing McGown and Gustafson was released where they pleaded with their respective governments to assist in their release.

Sooliman said the video prompted him to act.

"It was almost as if that video was talking to me," he told News24.

He said it was clear that the captors wanted to talk.

Since then, the Gift of the Givers has released videos informing the captors of their willingness to negotiate.

So far, the group's negotiator has spoken to a few leaders in Mali.

He will remain in Mali until August 1.

Sooliman said they were not only hoping for the safe release of McGown, but for Gustafson too.

"We cannot leave [Gustafson] out of the talks. If we get Stephen out, we will be happy to get the other out," he said, adding that the Gustafson family had given them their blessing.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  gift of the givers  |  imtiaz sooliman  |  pierre korkie  |  mali  |  west africa
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