Stephen McGowan, the South African held hostage by al-Qaeda’s Mali branch for over five years, has appealed again for his freedom in a new proof of life video released by his captors this weekend. By PETER FABRICIUS.
Stephen McGowan’s fate has been a matter of anxious speculation since last week when a Swede, Johan Gustafsson, who had been held in captivity with him, was released. Imtiaz Sooliman, head of Gift of the Givers charity organisation based in Johannesburg, which is negotiating for his release, said on Sunday he believed the video was proof that McGowan was still alive. He added that the fact that Gustafsson was not in the video – as he had been in previous online video messages with McGowan – suggested that the video had been filmed recently.
Five other Western hostages imprisoned by Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, al-Qaeda’s branch in Mali, also appealed for help in the video posted to the internet by their captors on Saturday.
McGowan, Gustafsson and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke were captured in Timbuktu, Mali, in November 2011. Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces.
McGowan says on the new video; “It’s a long time to be away… 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.
“Whoever is able to help me, please, please help me. Please help me to bring this to a close. For myself and for my family…” McGowan’s mother recently died but his father is still campaigning for his release. Sporting a long beard and wearing a hood, McGowan looks strained though not visibly in bad health in the video.
McGowan’s appeal is preceded by the narrator of Nusrat al-Islam who says, “Stephen McGowan has now spent over five years in captivity by the mujahideen, and throughout these years, and plea after plea, and with all the effort put in by his family and Gift of the Givers, unfortunately, South Africa has yet to see the homecoming of their child.
“Does Stephen McGowan not deserve the same freedom as his fellow South Africans?”
Nusrat al-Islam appears here to be appealing to someone for the ransom which it had earlier demanded. Sooliman said the ransom demand had originally been €10-million but it had come down to €4-million.
But he added that Gift of the Givers had already conveyed to the captors through intermediaries in Mali that neither McGowan’s family not Gift of the Givers were able to pay a ransom. Sooliman said he had also conveyed the message to his captors that McGowan might die of loneliness and depression now that his companion, Gustafsson, was no longer with him.
The release of the video may have been timed to precede Sunday’s visit to Mali by French President Emmanuel Macron for an anti-terror summit with the leaders of countries in the region. One of the hostages, Sophie Petronin, is French and the narrator of the video says she “is hoping that the new French president will come to her rescue”.
The other hostages in the video are Elliot Kenneth Arthur of Australia, Iulian Ghergut of Romania, Beatrice Stockly of Switzerland and Gloria Cecilia Narvaez of Colombia.
“No genuine negotiations have begun to rescue your children,” the video narrator says while the video also justifies the imprisonment of the six non-Muslim hostages by saying Muslims are being killed and imprisoned by non-Muslims.
The video was posted on Telegram, the SITE Intelligence Group said, according to media reports. DM
Photo: Stephen McGowan.
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