Today marks one year since the abduction of South African photo journalist Shiraaz Mohamed. Mohamed had entered the war-ravaged country after requesting the Gift of the Givers Foundation (GOTG) to facilitate his entry into Syria. His aim was to document the suffering of the Syrian people and distributing his images to the various international agencies that he freelances for. He was subsequently captured on January 10, 2017, while enroute to the Turkish border. According to GOTG staff, who accompanied Mohamed to the border, Mohamed was taken to an unknown location after being stopped on the road near the Turkish border by armed men.
GOTG announced this week that on Monday evening it received proof that the South African journalist is alive and in good condition. Proof of life was confirmed after GOTG received reply to ten questions from the captors, which his family says only Mohamed could have answered.
Providing an update on the latest findings, GOTG founder and CEO Dr Imitiaz Sooliman explains that the ten questions that were provided by Mohamed’s family and forwarded to the captors could only have been positively answered by Mohamed himself.
“The questions were of a very personal nature. It was carefully prepared with [his] mother and the family and those questions they said nobody else could know the details except Shiraaz.
“So we can safely confirm that Shiraaz is pretty much alive,” Sooliman stated.
In addition to answering the questions, Mohamed sent greetings to his mother, his siblings and to the GOTG team and requested that a passage is secured for him to return.
VOC News recently spoke to Palestinian director of Truth Collective SA, Bakar al-Maharmeh, who accused GOTG of having been behind Mohamed’s abduction, allegations Sooliman firmly denies.
Al-Maharmeh promised to secure a safe passage of return for the journalist in February 2017, but has yet to follow through on his word.
Truth Collective SA previously confirmed that it had made inroads with the Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group, who it alleges abducted Mohamed, saying that the armed group had provided photos and video footage as proof of life.
Given allegations tabled against GOTG, Sooliman says that he does not know Maharmeh, adding that “obviously he does not know who [GOTG] is…people know we don’t engage in these kind of things.”
Sooliman asserts that Mohamed entered Syria after GOTG facilitated the photo journalist’s entry as a means for him to document the conflict.
“The best description of who we are is Shiraaz’s mother and his family. If they say we sold him out, then we sold him out,” Sooliman stated.
Maharmeh’s promises to assist in the release of Mohamed in early 2017, Sooliman cites as “media sensationalism.”
Sooliman says that there is no clarity on when Shiraaz will be released at this stage, but confirms that he is being held in the north of Syria.
He says that a Palestinian man moved from Syria to Norway. While seeking asylum with the Norwegian Government, the individual mentioned Mohamed.
The Norwegian Government proceeded to request more information on the whereabouts of Mohamed with the South African High Commission in London.
Sooliman says that on October 19, 2017, the Norwegian Government provided new information to GOTG via the High Commission.
“This Palestinian man gave full details of Shiraaz, he identified him by a picture, he said he was in the room when Shiraaz was being questioned, and that Shiraaz was being held in North Syria by one of the groups and not the Syrian government,” Sooliman added.
The Palestinian further noted that Shiraaz was healthy and well at that stage and that he wanted to return home. He said the nature of groups within the region is that they constantly change their location.
Sooliman says that a second man contacted GOTG and stated that he was with Mohamed on November 17, 2017, and that he wishes to return home.
While unverified reports allege that Mohamed joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Sooliman affirmed the Mohamed does not wish to remain in Syria, with all evidence suggesting that he wants to return home.
“Six other people in different areas of the north of Syria all confirmed that Shiraaz was alive and was held in different parts of the north of Syria. But, up until now we couldn’t say anything, because we had no verification…finally the proof came [on Monday] night.”
According to GOTG staff members, who accompanied Mohamed to the Turkish border, the abductors said that he was being taken “to clear a misunderstanding” and would be released after two days to the GOTG Al-Rahma hospital.
“We don’t know why they held him…up until now they have never made a ransom demand [or] any other demand,” Sooliman continued.
He says that in the past year no group has taken responsibility for the capture of Mohamed.
GOTG now requests clarity on what the captors require to secure the release of the South African.