JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Al-Qaida’s North Africa branch has freed a South African man who was held hostage for six years in Mali and he is now home, South Africa’s government announced Thursday, denying it had paid any ransom.
Stephen McGown, who was released on July 25, was the longest-held of a number of foreigners seized by Islamic extremists in Mali, where several armed groups roam the West African country’s north. The extremists have made a fortune over the last decade abducting foreigners in the vast Sahel region and demanding enormous ransoms for their release.
South Africa’s minister for international relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said the government does not pay ransom in hostage situations. But South African aid organization Gift of the Givers Foundation, which helped mediate McGown’s release, told The Associated Press that its representative spoke on several occasions with an al-Qaida “intermediary” in Mali about the extremists’ demands for several million dollars.
Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman said he was unaware what if any payment was made in exchange for McGown’s freedom, as the group was not involved in the final stage.
“I’m ecstatic. It doesn’t matter how he came out. He came out,” Sooliman said.
McGown was kidnapped in 2011 at a hostel in Timbuktu, where he had been traveling as a tourist. He also has British citizenship.
“It was a big surprise when Stephen walked through the door,” his father, Malcolm, told reporters. “He felt as sound and as strong as before.”
McGown’s release follows…
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