Wednesday, 23 August, 2017

Al Qaeda releases Swedish hostage after almost six years

Swedish Al-Qaeda hostage freed Swede captured with SA's McGown in Mali freed
Felix Bryan | 27 June, 2017, 02:58

A Swedish man captured six years ago with South African Stephen McGown in Mali has been freed to head home, Sweden's foreign ministry said on Monday.

Sweden's foreign ministry announced Gustafsson's release this afternoon but said nothing of the fate of McGowan.

"I am extremely pleased to be able to announce that today Johan Gustafsson has been able to return to Sweden and reunite with his family", Ms Wallstrom said in a statement on Monday.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which operates in Mali and elsewhere in North Africa, has previously claimed responsibility for the deaths of other captives, including French hostage Phillipe Verdon who was beheaded by the group in 2013.

"I've already spoken with Johan and he is doing well and is overwhelmed by everything going on", Wallstrom told Swedish Radio.

Sooliman says al-Qaeda has demanded millions of rands in exchange for McGowan.

Mr Gustafsson was kidnapped along with South African Stephen McGown and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke.

Mr Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces. "No single case concerned me more as foreign minister".

Following his arrival, Wallstrom said during a news conference that Gustafsson was set free "a few days ago" but declined to give any details on the negotiations except to say that "diplomacy and police work" along with tight worldwide cooperation led to his release.

Gustafsson is now being flown back to Sweden from northern Africa.

He, Rijke and McGown were seized along with several other Westerners by a group of armed men while on the terrace of their hotel.

Gustafsson's family had repeatedly pleaded for his release in statements to the media, but on Monday his father Goran Gustafsson refused to comment on his release. While they were forced out of strongholds a year later by a French-led military intervention, jihadists continue to attack Malian and French soldiers and United Nations peacekeepers.

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