Three al Qaeda hostages, including a South African, kidnapped in northern Mali say they are being treated ‘well’ in a new video released by the group.
“My name is Stephen Malcolm McGown. I m with al Qaeda. Today I received this letter from my country,” South African McGown said in the video, holding up a piece of paper dated January 28. “I am in good health and they are treating me well.” The two other hostages repeated similar messages.
The three men, from South Africa, the Netherlands and Sweden, were seized on November 25 last year by gunmen who killed a fourth person as the group walked along a street in the northern Mali town of Timbuktu.
The kidnapping happened weeks before a mix of secular and Islamist rebels, some with links to al Qaeda, took up arms against Mali’s government. The insurgents later took advantage of the chaos surrounding a March coup to take control of the country’s desert north.
In the 53-second film posted on video sharing website YouTube, the Dutch citizen appeared alone inside what looked like a mud hut and spoke first. He held an envelope with the date “29.01.2012” written on it.
“I am Sjaak Rijke. I am from the Netherlands. I am with al-Qaeda and I’m being treated well. I received this letter from the Netherlands today,” he said in the video.
The film then cut to McGown and Johan Gustafsson, in an outside location, surrounded by four gunmen armed with AK-47s. The two held separate envelopes marked “28.01.2012”.
All three men spoke in front of a flag similar to one used by Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine which, along with al Qaeda faction MUJWA, now control two-thirds of Mali’s desert north, territory that includes Timbuktu.
Al Qaeda in North Africa said in December it carried out the kidnapping. It has also said it was holding six Frenchmen, two abducted from their hotel in the northern Mali town of Hombori two days before the Timbuktu kidnapping.
Another four were kidnapped in September 2010 in neighbouring Niger. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday the six were alive, but had been separated.