South African Stephen McGown, captured by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali nearly six years ago, has been freed.
“I’m pleased to say that my son is looking well and very healthy, and his mind seems as sharp as ever,” said his father, Malcolm McGown, during a Thursday press conference in Pretoria.
He added that it was a big surprise when Stephen walked through the door.
“Obviously the joy of the miracle, and that happened, we can’t describe it,” the elder McGown said. “I guess unless you’ve actually traveled the road, you really don’t know what it’s like.”
Stephen McGown, Swedish citizen Johan Gustafsson and Dutch hostage Sjaak Rijke were abducted from Timbuktu in November 2011. Rijke was previously freed by French forces in northern Mali in 2015, and Gustafsson was released in June. South Africa’s Gift of the Givers, an NGO involved in the years-long attempts to secure McGown’s safe release, confirmed last month that McGown was still alive.
South African officials said he was released on July 29. A statement from the South African government noted that the reunion was bittersweet, because Stephen’s mother, Beverly, just died in May without ever seeing the hoped-for release.
“We would like to warmly welcome him back home and wish him good health and good fortune in his life as a free man,” said International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana Mashabane.
The minister’s remarks included an appeal for South Africans to give McGown the space and time he needs to adjust.
Mashabane also said the South African government did not pay a ransom for McGown’s release.
Image: Gift of the Givers