No sign of SA lensman abducted in Syria
IT HAS been five months since South African photographer Shiraaz Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria.
Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman said it was unusual that nobody had come forward with a ransom demand yet.
Mohamed went missing in northern Syria, after being kidnapped in January while he was travelling to the Turkish border from the Gift of the Givers’ Ar Rahma Hospital in Darkoush.
Sooliman said Mohamed’s kidnappers had told Gift of the Givers drivers they wanted to take him in for questioning to “clear a misunderstanding and would return him to the hospital in 48 hours”.
They are still waiting for Mohamed to be brought back.
After Mohamed was taken, Sooliman said there had been protests in northern Syria, with citizens demanding his release calling for whoever captured him to be punished”.
“We approached at least 15 groups, either directly or indirectly, at the highest level. These included Nusra, al-Aqsa Brigades, Ahrar al-Sham and many others. In the beginning, most groups pointed fingers at Nusra but, in time, it doesn’t appear they are holding him.
“Nusra gave an open invitation to foreign journalists to come and report independently on what’s happening in Syria. They guaranteed protection for the journalists, so it appears unlikely they would have Shiraaz.
“All prisons were thoroughly searched, many areas were raided by different groups but there was no sign of Shiraaz,” he said.
Sooliman said this was a puzzling case because “no one has come forward with any demands”.
“There’s no request for ransom, nor a request for an exchange of prisoners nor an announcement he has been executed because he was a spy or something to that effect.
“There was a rumour that he went to join one or other group. Every group dispelled that and said he is not with them. It appears whoever took him is afraid to reveal who they are because of the serious repercussions from other groups, who say this was unacceptable behaviour.”
There was a glimmer of hope when three individuals separately approached the hospital claiming they had video footage of Mohamed showing he was alive. However, they all wanted money in exchange.
“We said many people have offered that but we will only pay once the video arrives. None of them came back.
“Then, about two weeks ago, one of the European governments called one of our embassies in Europe and asked if it was true a South African was captured in Syria in January. They said ‘yes’.
“That government said they were questioning an asylum seeker from Syria and he started speaking about Shiraaz. It was totally unrelated to their questioning. This person said Shiraaz entered Syria in January and that he was working in some refugee camps taking pictures and handing out food.”
He said the South African embassy had contacted them and informed them what the person told them was true.
“The asylum seeker mentioned that Shiraaz was alive and he was aware where he was being held. I then put forward a list of questions to our embassy to forward to the European government. We are still waiting for a response.”
Sooliman said they were baffled by the case.
“Until someone makes a ransom demand or some individual comes forward with valuable information, we are at a loss as to who is holding Shiraaz, where and why.”
He said Mohamed’s family were traumatised as they did not know whether he was dead or alive.
“In the meantime the family is in deep pain, waiting patiently in anxiety. They say that every day it’s as if there is a funeral in their home. Our efforts to find him continue relentlessly,” said Sooliman.
Mohamed’s sister, Sumaya Mohamed, told Weekend Argus: “This is an especially difficult time not having our brother, with us during this blessed month of Ramadaan. Most evenings, we break our fast in tears but always with prayer, hope and faith that the Almighty will help our brother through this and return him home to us safe and soon.
“We are in a constant state of anxiety and distress. The possibility of Eid without our brother is even more devastating. Our only comfort is prayer; we have complete faith in the power of prayer and the infinite mercy of the Almighty.
“We ask that everyone please continue to pray for our brother, especially during this blessed month.
“We thank the Gift of the Givers for their continued efforts and support and the support of everyone out there.”
‘There’s no request for ransom, nor a request for an exchange of prisoners’
Photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed, who was kidnapped in Syria in January.