Mali hostages, held since late 2011, plead for release in video


Two hostages kidnapped by al Qaeda militants in north Mali more than three years ago asked their governments to help secure their release in a rare video of them seen by Reuters on Monday.

The two men, from Sweden and South Africa, were seized in the desert city of Timbuktu in November 2011, weeks before secular and Islamist rebels took over Mali’s north.

A German man with them was shot dead during the capture while a Dutch hostage was discovered by chance and freed during a raid by French commandos in April 2015.

The nearly 19-minute video, entitled “A trip to interview two prisoners,” could not be independently verified by Reuters, although it bore the stamp of al-Andalus, which claims to be the media arm of al Qaeda in north Africa (AQMI). It was posted on Youtube and on a Mauritanian website called Sahara Medias, which has a history of releasing statements by Islamist groups.

The opening sequence shows a group of armed men in the desert and is narrated by a masked man speaking fluent English.

The film then cuts to a forest scene where the two bearded hostages are led beneath a tree and interviewed as their captors look on.

The men, who were filmed in 2012 and 2013 but are not known to have appeared in video footage since, are informed by their masked interviewer that negotiations for their release are underway but have not yet succeeded.

Both Stephen Malcolm McGowan, of South Africa, and Johan Gustafsson, of Sweden, ask for help from their governments. Neither hostage showed any obvious signs of ill health.

The video features sound effects and super-imposed images, suggesting the kidnappers may be aping the sophisticated production techniques used by the Islamic State.

The date of the video is not clear, though the video could be dated from McGowan’s mother’s birthday and his wedding anniversary which he acknowledges in his message.

The location of the video is not given, described only by the narrator as “new territory under the control of mujahideen”. McGowan hints they are being held in Mali.

A French military intervention in the West African country in 2013 chased out the Islamist militants from the main towns of the north, although they have since regrouped in remote areas.

In recent weeks, they have spread further south and have conducted attacks in the southern capital Bamako and one near the Ivory Coast border.