No sign of SA lens­man ab­ducted in Syria

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - TANYA PETERSEN

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’

PIC­TURE: SUP­PLIED

Pho­to­jour­nal­ist Shi­raaz Mo­hamed, who was kid­napped in Syria in Jan­uary.

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