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.”