Three South African men are embroiled in complex international situations with little hope of return. South African photo-journalist Shiraaz Mohamed is being held hostage by an armed group in Syria while John Bothma and Mushfiq Daniels have disappeared without a trace while staying in Vietnam. Founder of the Gift of the Givers Foundation, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, has worked as a negotiator on several hostage cases, said that the most recent video to surface of Shiraaz Mohamed is authentic.
In the latest video, Mohamed, who has lost weight and has dark bags under his eyes, is seen held in a dark underground cell. Wearing tattered clothing, he is removed from the cell by a masked man wearing military fatigues. Mohamed is visibly shaking as the armed man proceeds to shave his beard. Mohamed puts on an orange overall, similar to the ones worn by ISIS captives, and makes an emotional plea in front of the camera. Mohamed appeals to doctor Fekri Shabaan, who was involved with negotiations, to cooperate with his captors or “they will put a bullet in my head”
Speaking to VOC Drivetime on Monday, Dr Sooliman said he was not surprised by the turn of events.
“The video is authentic and we expected this kind of reaction,” said Dr Sooliman.
“You don’t play with people like this – they will kill to make a point.”
In the video, Mohamed mentions Dr Fekri Shabaan and pleads for the doctor – who is currently leading the negotiations for Mohamed’s family – to cooperate with the captors. Gift of the Givers has distanced itself from Dr Shabaan and effectively withdrew from the case in June this year after being discontented with the way Shabaan handled the negotiations.
“Fekri used to be a volunteer with us and we removed him in January 2017. We said to them (the captors) if they want to use Fekri, it’s their choice but its going to make things difficult. Make biggest fear was that Fekri had no experience with hostage negotiations.”
The humanitarian aid organisation had been in contact with Mohamed’s captors since they released a ‘proof of life’ video at the end of April. The captors made a demand for a negotiable $1.5m ransom to secure his release, which Dr Sooliman at the time said was not possible. Gift of the Givers has a strict policy that it does not pay ransom money.
The most pressing concern for Dr Sooliman was that Shabaan had given the captor’s an expectation that a ransom would be paid.
“He (Fekri) kept on promising money. We were almost on the verge of bringing the captors down to zero and when we were about to achieve that, Fekri came in and changed the whole thing. The reason why Shiraaz is in difficulty is because he was given hope.”
Dr Sooliman explained, however, that with captors such as those holding Mohamed, there needs to be a level of respect and consistency throughout the negotiations.
“Two people cannot negotiate with the same people. From the 26 June we withdrew from the case…”
“The thing with these kinds of captors is you have to show them respect and be consistent. You have to deal with them in a fair way.”
Mohamed was kidnapped near the Gift of the Givers Ar Rahma Hospital in Darkoush, Syria in January 2017. At the time, he was said to be working on an assignment documenting communities in Syria. He was accused of being a foreign spy.
Dr Sooliman says that while Gift of the givers is no longer directly involved, he hopes for the best.
“This is a painful procedure to be involved in. I’m sad it has reached this state.”
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NEWS JUST IN: Another video of the kidnapped South African photo-journalist Shiraaz Mohamed has emerged in which he makes a desperate plea for the government to assist him. In the visuals, Mohamed, who has lost weight and has dark bags under his eyes, is seen held in an underground cell. Wearing tattered clothing, he is removed from the cell by a masked man wearing military fatiques. Mohamed is visibly shaking as the masked man proceeds to shave his beard. He then puts on an orange overall and makes a plea in front of the camera. Mohamed appeals to doctor Fekri Shabaan, who was involved with negotiations, to cooperate with his captors or "they will put a bullet in my head". “These people are very angry with the way you are speaking with them, the way you are doing the negotiations. My living conditions up until the last time you spoke to them was OK. My life has become very difficult. Please I beg you Dr Fekri Shabaan change the way you are speaking with them, change the way you are negotiating with them, listen to them and give them what they want.”
Posted by Voice of the Cape Radio – VOC on Monday, 19 August 2019
John Bothma and Mushfiq Daniels in Vietnam
While there has been no shortage of speculation surrounding the circumstances of the disappearances of both Mushfiq Daniels and John Bothma in Vietnam, Dr Sooliman ruled out several unlikely scenarios.
Such scenarios include: a situation where both men developed a relationship with a woman and sought to distance themselves from everyone and everything, kidnapping by terrorist organisations, prolonged illness, fatal accidents, human trafficking and participation in drug syndicates.
Dr Sooliman suspects – and fears – that organ harvesting is the most probable situation these men are facing.
He said both Bothma and Daniels were not in any dire need of funds and as such are unlikely to have voluntarily sold any organs. Similarly, it is also unlikely that these men would have disappeared in the manner in which they have, if they volunteered their organs.
“In February 2019, the Vietnamese government smashed a major organ harvesting ring in Vietnam,” said Dr Sooliman.
“Out of 95 million people in Vietnam, 5 million need some sort of organ…there’s a significant shortage of organs in Vietnam [because they don’t donate when they die].”
Dr Sooliman added that the organs commonly required are hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys and eyes.
Furthermore, an American woman who has been linked to the case as a person of interest has recently disappeared off social media.
However, all hope is not lost just yet.
“Let’s hope there’s no recipient right now,” said Dr Sooliman.
“If they haven’t found a recipient, they can’t do the procedure. It [the organ] has to be “fresh” …they can’t do the procedure and park the organ somewhere.”
“We need our intelligence services to move very fast and investigate.”