Sunday 25 February 2018

Al-Qa'ida video of UK hostage gives his family hope

Aislinn Laing in Johannesburg

A VIDEO has emerged of a British banker who was taken hostage by al-Qa'ida in Mali in November during a holiday motorbiking through Africa.

Stephen McGown (37) and a fellow Swedish hostage are shown backed by four heavily-armed men, and hold brown envelopes with letters inside and the date 28.01.2012 written on them.

He speaks briefly: "My name is Stephen Malcolm McGown. I am being held by al-Qa'ida. Today I received this letter from my country. I am healthy and they are treating me well."

Mr McGown, who has dual British-South African nationality, appears alongside another hostage, Johan Gustafsson, a Swedish national, and both men sport long beards.

The video, which appears to have been filmed in January, was posted on YouTube last week and constitutes the first proof that they are alive since an initial picture was taken of them shortly after they were snatched from a restaurant in Timbuktu, Mali, along with Dutch national Sjaak Rijke.

In April, an unverified statement on an Islamic website claimed Mr McGown would be released if Britain sent the radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada to an "Arab Spring" country rather than deporting him to Jordan, where he faces imprisonment over terrorist charges.

Consequences

If Britain ignored the offer, the statement added, it would "bear the consequences".

Speaking in Johannesburg yesterday, Mr McGown's father Malcolm said the video provided them with some hope. "The video is very old now but it does raise hopes and we certainly hope he will be out soon but we just don't know," he said.

He said that neither he, nor Mr McGown's wife Catherine, who has moved from the couple's home in London to Johannesburg, had heard from the kidnappers since he was taken.

"We are still waiting to hear and there's been no ransom demand. We are leaving it up to the South African government and they are doing their best," he said.

Mr McGown is understood to have worked for Investec in London but was taking the bike trip as a "final adventure" before settling back in South Africa, where his parents live.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said its officials had seen the "distressing" video and condemned its release.

"We continue to provide all possible support to the Dutch, Swedish and South African governments who are working to secure their citizens' safe and secure release.

"We reiterate our call to those holding the hostages to show compassion and release them immediately." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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