Fears for safety of lens­man in Syria

Said to have been cap­tured over so-called mis­un­der­stand­ing

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - MASEGO PANYANE masego.panyane@inl.co.za

THE DIS­AP­PEAR­ANCE of Joburg-based pho­to­jour­nal­ist Shi­raaz Mo­hamed has raised many ques­tions, while his fam­ily pray for the best.

Mo­hamed is be­lieved to have been kid­napped on Tues­day by in­di­vid­u­als who said they “rep­re­sent all groups in­side Syria” near the Gift of the Givers Foun­da­tion’s Al-Hi­lal Hos­pi­tal.

The kid­nap­pers are said to have sin­gled out Mo­hamed in the group he was trav­el­ling with to take him in for ques­tion­ing re­gard­ing a “mis­un­der­stand­ing”. Gift of the Givers was host­ing Mo­hamed in Syria as he doc­u­ments the lives of adults and chil­dren in the wartorn coun­try, and is cur­rently spear­head­ing ef­forts to bring the lens­man home safely.

Shirley Bri­jlal, Mo­hamed’s ex-wife, who still re­mains close to him, said his fam­ily were try­ing to re­main pos­i­tive while try­ing to find out more in­for­ma­tion.

“When we first heard the news we were all dev­as­tated. But now we are all try­ing to make sense of all the in­for­ma­tion we are re­ceiv­ing. Ap­par­ently he was sin­gled out for ques­tion­ing, and we just don’t un­der­stand why,” Bri­jlal said.

They were count­ing on the foun­da­tion to bring back the man she has loved for 13 years.

“We are count­ing on them to bring him back safely be­cause he was their guest. They have been very co-op­er­a­tive, giv­ing us con­stant feed­back and ex­plain­ing to us some of the things we may not un­der­stand,” she said.

A state­ment re­leased by the char­ity said one of the med­i­cal staff mem­bers at one of the foun­da­tion’s hos­pi­tals, Dr Ah­mad Ghan­dour, was taken into ques­tion­ing on Fri­day by the in­ves­ti­ga­tion depart­ment of An Nusra (now Fath Al Sham), a for­mer al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate, to an­swer ques­tions re­gard­ing the “mis­un­der­stand­ing” that was men­tioned when Mo­hamed was kid­napped.

The foun­da­tion’s founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Im­tiaz Sooli­man de­tailed the events of the ques­tion­ing, stat­ing that Ghan­dour was asked what the “mis­un­der­stand­ing” was that the kid­nap­pers had spo­ken of.

“They wanted to know if Shi­raaz had some dis­agree­ment with Ah­mad. Ah­mad replied that, on the con­trary, Shi­raaz was in­vited to have meals and sleep at his home and that he had taken Shi­raaz to some of the ar­eas to take his pic­tures,” Sooli­man said in a state­ment.

He added that Ghan­dour was to take Mo­hamed to Aleppo, but that trip was called off over safety con­cerns. He added that the doc­tor in­formed the ques­tion­ers of the dis­plea­sure of the char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion over Mo­hamed’s cap­ture.

“Ah­mad con­veyed Gift of the Givers’ mes­sage, which had to be passed on to ev­ery­one, that we’re ex­tremely an­noyed with this in­ci­dent. Gift of the Givers have sup­ported the Syr­ian peo­ple with mas­sive hu­man­i­tar­ian life-sav­ing projects for four years.

“This was pre­dom­i­nantly South African sup­port and an in­sult to us that a South African was cap­tured. This South African had come to record the hard­ship of the Syr­ian peo­ple to gar­ner more in­ter­na­tional sup­port,” he said.

The Depart­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Co-op­er­a­tion is also try­ing to se­cure Mo­hamed’s safe re­turn, but said it still had no in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing his where­abouts.

PIC­TURES: SHI­RAAZ MO­HAMED

A joy­ful Syr­ian boy runs through the mud. This photo is among the last sent by South African pho­to­jour­nal­ist Shi­raaz Mo­hamed, who was ab­ducted by armed men near the Turk­ish bor­der while on as­sign­ment for the Gift of the Givers char­ity in Syria. His fam­ily is re­ported to be anx­ious about his well­be­ing.

Dressed in shades of pink, two young girls await the Chi­nese New Year cel­e­bra­tions in Com­mis­sioner Street in Joburg, where the Year of the Goat was cel­e­brated on Fe­bru­ary 21, 2015. The Chi­nese New Year is cel­e­brated by Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties all over the world.

A cy­clist giv­ing his all in the 947 Cy­cle Chal­lenge cap­tured from the top of a bridge in Joburg in 2015. More than R14.3 mil­lion was raised for char­ity in that year.

A boy rides a don­key while his par­ents vote at a polling sta­tion in Ha Khoa­bane on the out­skirts Maseru in the elec­tions in 2015, fol­low­ing a me­di­a­tion in the af­ter­math of the 2014 po­lit­i­cal crisis.

These pho­tos, above and be­low, of young chil­dren in Syria are among the last sent by pho­to­jour­nal­ist Shi­raaz Mo­hamed, kid­napped in Syria while work­ing for the Gift of the Givers.

An aerial view of the 55-storey Ponte build­ing in Berea, Joburg. Built in 1975, at 173 me­tres it is still the tallest res­i­den­tial sky­scraper on the African con­ti­nent and a land­mark in the city.

Shi­raaz Mo­hamed spent time with chil­dren in Malawi while on a pho­to­graphic trip to a re­gion rav­aged by floods.

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