Talks with “influential people” with close ties to al-Qaeda hostage takers of South African Stephen McGown and Swede Johan Gustafsson – captured in Mali in 2011 – are expected to take place this week.
This is according to humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers (GOTG), who is facilitating negotiations for their release. GOTG founder Imtiaz Sooliman said the talks between its negotiators in Mali and the groups may even take place today. This follows a video released in early December last year, in which McGown and Gustafsson relay to their families that they were well.
Sooliman said the organisation who posted the video release were dealing with the “influential people” and had made it clear no money from the government or families could be paid to al-Qaeda.
“We said upfront that the people captured are ordinary citizens and that the governments do not pay. They haven’t asked for money since,” Sooliman said, adding this was a positive sign. Ransom money was often used for weapons, he said. However, part of the money also went to cover the cost of the hostages, including their food, transport and medical care. “It has become a business.”
Following the video release, McGown’s parents told The Citizen they were positive their son would be home for Christmas. “I’m telling you that he will be home for Christmas,” Stephen’s mother, Beverly, said. His father, Malcolm, said: “We are over the moon. We are so happy and thrilled – especially since he looks well. He looks like they are taking care of him.”
McGown, who is married to Cathy, had planned to come home and start a family at the time he was captured. But he wanted one last adventure and decided to travel through Africa by motorbike. He was seized by al-Qaeda members during a coup in Timbuktu in Mali.
One German national was killed. One of the hostages, Dutchman Sjaak Rijke, was freed in April by French Special Forces during a desert operation near Tessalit, northern Mali.