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Shiraaz Mohamed’s release being derailed by ransom seekers

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Gift of the Givers says it believes someone is giving the kidnappers of South African photo journalist Shiraz Mohamad false information, which has led to the delay in negotiations for his release. Mohamed was captured in Syria in January last year, on his way back to the Turkish border after accompanying the Gift of the Givers. Earlier this year, Gift of the Givers said they had received proof that he is still alive, but negotiations with his captors has been hit by numerous obstacles.

Speaking to VOC, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said someone has spread false rumours that the NGO is willing to pay ransom for his relief.

“Every time messages were sent that we would pay a couple of million euros. They keep coming back to us, and we keep saying, there is no money. We have repeatedly said that he is a Muslim and they have no right to take anyone as a hostage. When we said there is no way they will get even 50 cents from us, then they say they understand,” he explained.

“Five days later, someone comes with another message to say they were informed that we are ready to pay. So someone is deliberately delaying the process, feeding false information and giving us false hope.”

Sooliman insists a ransom will not be paid to secure Mohamed’s release.

“The money we have is being used at the Ar Rahma hospital in Darkoush to save lives of Syrian families. They cannot expect us to give it up as ransom. We have been very firm with them and we hope they got the message.

It’s believed Dr Ahmad Ghandour, head of Gift of the Givers Ar Rahma Hospital, spearheaded the search for Mohamed, risking his life on several occasions, traversing areas of intense conflict and heavy bombing to meet various leaders of the myriad groups, engage tribal leaders, medical personnel, renowned journalists and prison guards, all in the hope of finding some clue about the journalist’s whereabouts.

On 26 December 2017, he received a message to not talk to anyone else.

“Don’t talk to anyone but us, we are the door to Shiraaz,” the message said.

List of 10 questions
Sooliman said the Gift of the Givers responded, saying they had received numerous such messages and prepared a list of 10 questions as surety.

“The voice said, ‘send the questions, you will have the answers soon’. On 2 January the call came again: ‘My man is in Syria, he has met Shiraaz, the questions have been answered, we await his return’,” Sooliman said.

Shortly before 20:00 one evening, the Gift of the Givers received a message that Shiraaz gives “salaams” for his mother and family and to Gift of the Givers, he is very happy with the questions and wants to be released ASAP.

“Through Dr Ahmad Ghandour’s relentless efforts, we started receiving messages from 28 September from at least eight different sources that Shiraaz was alive, one such source stating that he was with Shiraaz on 17 November,” Sooliman said.

“But we couldn’t give Shiraaz’s family false hope as the information could not be verified no matter how credible the source. We had turning point, as Shiraaz’s family confirmed that all 10 questions were correctly answered and it could only be from Shiraaz,” he said. VOC

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