A South African man snatched from his hotel and held hostage by al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been freed, his country’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
Stephen McGown, 42, was grabbed from his accommodation in the historic trading city of Timbuktu in Mali’s north along with Swede Johan Gustafsson and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke, both of whom were both subsequently released.
McGown has returned to South Africa and has been reunited with his family, deputy director-general of diplomacy at the Foreign Ministry Clayson Monyela told AFP.
Gustafsson was released in June while Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces.
Rijke’s wife managed to escape during the jihadist assault on the popular tourist hotel, but a German who tried to resist the abduction was killed.
Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of the three men.
“Our fellow South African … was released on 29 July 2017,” Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters.
“We give him a warm welcome back home particularly that he lands home with a mother who has passed on during his incarceration.
“He was just a tourist in Timbuktu.
We are happy that he is a free man.”
McGown’s mother Beverly died in May after a long illness.
‘Appalled at this kind of activity’
“Her anxiety over Stephen’s fate and her longing to see her son finally took its toll,” said chairman of the Gift of the Givers charity Imtiaz Sooliman at the time. The charity was previously involved in negotiating McGown’s release.
“We had seen the sadness in the mother’s eye and watched how she patiently waited in dignified pain for the return of her son. We failed her – my heart bleeds for her,” Sooliman told local media in May.
Gift of the Givers reportedly dispatched a hostage negotiator to Mali to push for McGown’s release in July 2015.
The charity said in May 2017 it was giving up its negotiating efforts after hitting a “dead end”.
AQIM 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.
The group had released several videos of McGown and Gustafsson over the years, but very little was known about the kidnappers’ demands.
“We are appalled at this kind of activity, of Al-Qaeda … that goes into the kidnapping of innocent citizens,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.
Monyela added that ministers would soon reveal details of how McGown’s release was secured. – Agence France-Presse