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S.African held by Al-Qaeda in Mali is ‘well,’ says his father

Photo of Johan Gustafsson and Stephen McGown (center) being held captive in Mali.

Johannesburg, June 28, 2017 (AFP) – A South African who has been held hostage by Al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 is alive and well, his father said Wednesday, having received information from a recently released Swedish captive.

Stephen McGown’s father Malcolm said he had spoken twice to Johan Gustafsson, who was detained alongside Stephen, since his release earlier this week.

“He said they were both well, he says Stephen is well. So there has not been any sort of abuse or anything like that,” McGown told AFP.

“We just sort of hope that Stephen will come out soon. At this stage he is now on his own,” he said in a phone interview from his Johannesburg home.

McGown added that Gustafsson reported that the two men were together until he was taken to be released.

McGown, 42, was abducted in Timbuktu in northern Mali in November 2011 along with Gustafsson and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke by a group of armed men while on the terrace of their hotel.

Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces.

Stephen’s father, who lost his wife to a chronic illness a month ago, said he remained optimistic that his son would soon return home.

“He is gonna come out. I’m sure he will be out in 2017, hopefully it will be in July, August or whatever.”

He said that Gustafsson was “very positive” about McGown’s situation, adding that “it’s a pity they both didn’t come out at the same time”.

Swedish authorities have not released details of how Gustafsson was released.

South African officials have told the McGown family that they are working hard to secure Stephen’s freedom. A South African charity, Gift of the Givers, has also been involved in efforts to secure his release.

McGown said “that I don’t know, and I don’t want to know” if there has been a ransom demand from the kidnappers.

“Just bring me my son and put him next to me and I don’t want to know how,” he said.

Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

It was one of several jihadist groups that took control of Mali’s north in 2012 before being ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

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Ben Mabande

Ben Mabande is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.

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