By Anees Teladia
A video providing the proof of life of missing South African photo-journalist Shiraaz Mohamed has been described as a “breakthrough” by Gift of the Givers. Mohamed is currently being held hostage in Syria by an armed rebel group and has been in this situation for over two years now. He was abducted in Darkoush in January 2017 and was accused of being a foreign spy.
In the footage, Mohamed can be seen holding up a sign with the date the footage was presumably filmed. He then pleas for help, saying the Russian Air Force bombing efforts are getting closer to where he is held. Gift of the Givers Foundation (a disaster relief organisation) founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman confirmed that the video and information is current.
“The video came to us on Friday night,” said Sooliman.
“The new thing with rebel groups is that they’ve decided to not make any more videos. If they do, they ask a lot of money for it. From the information in the video, it’s obvious it is current. The [hostage] group is obviously not sending it for free – they are going to send a message saying they want money or something else.”
Sooliman made it clear that Gift of the Givers does not and will not pay ransom money.
He added that while the group may very well make demands, governments don’t ordinarily involve or associate themselves with non-state entities and rebellion groups in an official capacity – especially where matters of security and foreign state sovereignty are concerned.
“It’s a standard law with all governments throughout the world – you don’t talk to terrorists, you don’t negotiate and you don’t pay ransom,” said Sooliman.
“Normally, the governments concerned would each talk to the government of the country where the hostage is held, through the embassy. However, in Syria it doesn’t help because the government of the country isn’t in control of a lot of what happens there. A lot is controlled by rebel groups and you can’t have an embassy in a rebel-controlled area because it’s not a recognised government. So it makes it very difficult for government to get involved.”
Sooliman did, however, add that Qatar might be the best source of a solution due to their track record of assisting in situations such as this one.
Regarding claims of Mohamed willingly joining the rebel groups, Sooliman outrightly rejected those claims as a “nonsense story” and spoke on the information he has received regarding Mohamed’s character.
“It’s obvious he hasn’t joined the rebels – that’s a nonsense story,” said Sooliman.
“People say he likes to get into difficult and challenging situations. He has a soft spot for people and likes to take those pictures and send them to the world…so that’s the reason he went into Syria. People have said he’s not the type of guy to join any group. He’s not a very brave guy, apparently. They joke about that.”
“All information shows he’s not the type of guy to join a rebel group. But all that is cleared when you see the video. His life is in danger by the group itself.”
Sooliman says that the claims being made by the rebel group accusing Mohamed of being a spy are also false and that while Gift of the Givers does not pay ransom, they do have plans regarding the situation which they cannot discuss at this time.