Gift of the Givers: We believe Shiraaz Mohamed is alive

South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed, who was abducted in Syria 13 days ago, is alive, according to “connected people” there, the humanitarian aid organisation Gift of the Givers said in a statement on Monday. 

The identity of Mohamed’s captors and his location is also known, and the organisation has some of his possessions.

But Gift of the Givers have not yet received proof that Mohamed is alive. The organisation says it has learned from a network of people who are searching for Mohamed in Syria that he is. 

The organisation’s founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, says airstrikes and tensions between different groups in Syria are “challenges” that have hampered efforts to secure Mohamed’s release.

“But in spite of these challenges we have received excellent co-operation through ‘connected’ people who, through their own individual research and ‘networks’, have confirmed that Shiraaz is alive – just their word on this but no proof of life,” Sooliman said in a written statement.

He added that the network of people working to find Mohamed also know the identity of the “group” who has captured Mohamed. In Syria, Sooliman says, members of a group can be divided along factional lines. Mohamed’s captors seem to be divided, because members of the group have allegiance to different factions. 

“Many factions belong to the various groups. Sometimes one faction doesn’t know what the other is doing. In this case one faction has taken Shiraaz but the other factions know nothing about it.”

Mohamed’s location is also known and Sooliman says Gift of the Givers now has possession of Mohamed’s belongings, including his laptop, and camera.

The news comes after close to two weeks of no information about Mohamed’s captors, where he has been taken and whether he is alive. The photojournalist was in Syria on assignment with Gift of the Givers when he kidnapped in the northern town of Darkoush near the Turkish border. He was on his way back to Turkey when the car he was travelling in was ambushed on January 10. Since then, Gift of the Givers and the Department of International Relations and Co-operation have been searching for him.

Mohamed’s former wife and friend, Shirley Brijlal, released a statement saying news that Mohamed in alive is “the best news ever”.

“There were times when my confidence wavered, but we fell back on prayer and our faith. I am filled with gratitude and hope. He just needs to get home now, then all Shiraaz’s loved ones will know for sure that the nightmare of the past two weeks is over,” Brijlal said. 

Gift of the Givers has, however, been unable to independently confirm the information they have received from those on the ground searching for Mohamed. Instead, the humanitarian aid group has relied on well-known Syrian journalists to verify what the news.

“From all our interactions with the different people, including a high profile Syrian journalist, it appears that their information is credible. We can’t independently verify it as yet but we are not ignoring it,” Sooliman said.

A task team has now been organised to secure Mohamed’s release. Gift of the Givers says Anas al Hamati, a hostage negotiator from Yemen, now has a leading part in the effort to bring Mohamed home. The organisation now believes that Mohamed’s kidnapping could be “a case of mistaken identity” and his captors may have abducted the wrong person.

Sooliman says the next two days could bring more news and increasing efforts to bring Mohamed home.

“In the next 48 hours we are expecting more information so we wait patiently,” Sooliman said. “We have a very decisive plan and will use it as leverage if the need arises.”

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

South Africa has been junked

Treasury says the credit ratings downgrade “could not have come at a worse time”, as country enters a 21-day Covid-19 lockdown with little money saved up

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories