On Thursday, Stephen McGown and Johan Gustafsson held press conferences in South Africa and Sweden in which they discussed their long captivity in Mali.

McGown was released last month, having been held by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for just under six years. McGown abducted in November 2011 from Timbuktu, alongside Swedish Gustafsson and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke. Rijke was freed by French special forces in April 2015 and Gustafsson was released in June this year.

You can view the Gift of the Givers press conference in full here. In the introduction the head of Gift of the Givers, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, sets out the reasons why the organisation handed over to the Governments of South Africa and Mali, and the assets and expertise that the authorities could bring to the table. This interview is well worth watching if you work in the KRE sector.

From Beloit Daily News

2 hostages freed by al-Qaida make 1st public appearances

Two men released from al-Qaida captivity after six years in northern Mali made their first public appearances Thursday, recounting their ordeals and saying they were not clear whether any ransom was paid for their freedom.

“I think it’s wrong to pay ransoms,” 42-year-old Johan Gustafsson, who was freed in June, told reporters in Sweden. “I hope they let me out because they were tired of me.” Sweden has insisted it never paid any ransom and that his release was obtained through negotiations.

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Stephen McGown

From the Mirror

Tourist released after being held hostage by Al-Qaeda for six years says “it’s dangerous to be British”

Speaking about his horrific experience, Stephen McGown said: “I do not believe that they knew my nationality when they caught me.

“They obviously would have really preferred me to have been British. This would have been first prize.

“And it took a long time for the British status to fall away. I think my family were pushing for this, and I was pushing for this. Because it’s dangerous to be British, I think. “

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From the Guardian

South African held hostage by al-Qaida in Mali tells of his ordeal

“The driver in my car turned to me and said, ‘You are free, you can go.’ I was like, ‘Yeah OK.’ He said: ‘If you don’t believe me you can walk, you can go.’ Then it actually came to me: maybe he’s not just pulling my leg and joking with me. And then another came along. I got in that and I drove out.

“Once I hit the tar road and crossed over the bridge into Gao, then I realised that if they try and take me back I’m going to jump out of the car and run so then I realised I must be free now.”

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From News24

Stephen McGown on the ‘ups and downs’ of clinging to hope

However after he converted to Islam of his own accord, he said he started receiving more favourable treatment from his captors. 

“They treated me well. However you always knew that you were a prisoner. You were at the bottom of the food chain. If you walked 50 m too far, they were aware of it.”

He said after converting, the man holding him captive would wash his clothes and serve him the good part of the meat, however he was always aware that he was in prison. 

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From the BBC

Stephen McGown assumed al-Qaeda release was ‘joke’

He said he had converted to Islam while captive and that he focused on remaining positive in captivity because he did not want to come home “a mess”.

“I suppose you try and find routines, you try and find things that sort of give you an escapism from the situation, like doing a bit of exercise,” he said.

“I was trying to make conversation with the mujahideen [people who engage in Jihad] to get along with the mujahideen. I didn’t want to come out an angry person.”

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Johan Gustafsson

From the BBC

Al-Qaeda hostages McGown and Gustafsson talk of time in Sahara

After the first year, Mr Gustafsson, 42, tried to escape. For two days and nights, he was on the run from his captors.

When they eventually caught up with him, there was, he admitted, a feeling of relief.

“At the same time, it was a big disappointment, and I was afraid that at worst they would kill me,” he said.

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Gustafsson pretended he converted to Islam. From the Local.se

Swedish hostage Johan Gustafsson ‘pretended to be Muslim’ to survive

He was then allowed to walk around freely in the camp and prayed together with his captors.

“I pray with them and eat with them. I act like they do. I act like I’m an ordinary Muslim, not like a jihadist. During this time you get to know them. I feel inside of me that they are the enemy, but if there is anything I can do I do it,” he said.

“I didn’t know anything about Islam, so I’m not sure how believable it was. But I think they saw it as their duty to accept it, even though I have a hard time believing that they actually believed me.”

Please click here to read more.


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