The family of South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed is praying for his safe return after they confirmed he is still alive nearly a year after being abducted in Syria while on assignment.
The Mohamed family has waited anxiously for news of Shiraaz’s whereabouts and health after he was kidnapped under mysterious circumstances while documenting the war in Syria on a trip with humanitarian aid organisation Gift of the Givers.
The past weeks have especially taken their toll on Mohamed’s mother, Shireen, who was admitted to hospital on New Years’ Eve due to a heart condition. Mohamed’s sister, Sumaya, told the Mail & Guardian that the news has injected hope into the family for his safe return.
“We are very happy with the news, it brings added hope especially during my mother’s illness. We ask that everyone continue to pray for our brother’s safe and swift return,” Sumaya said.
Gift of the Givers said that on December 26 it received an anonymous call from someone who alleged: “Don’t talk to anyone but us, we are the door to Shiraaz”. In response, the family drafted 10 questions, Gift of the Givers said, which were then sent to the caller to verify their claim.
According to Gift of the Givers, a response from the caller came on January 2: “My man is in Syria, he has met Shiraaz, the questions have been answered, we await his return”.
The answers were then sent to Gift of the Givers, who were then able to confirm that Mohamed is alive.
“At 7.50pm on 8 January we received the message that Shiraaz gives “salaams (greetings) for his mother and family and to Gift of the Givers, he is very happy with the questions and wants to be released asap,” the organisation said.
“Last night was the turning point as Shiraaz’s family confirmed that all ten questions were correctly answered and it could only be from Shiraaz. The family were ecstatic.”
January 10 marks a year since Mohamed was kidnapped outside a Gift of the Givers hospital in Darkoush in northern Syria near the Turkish border. Mohamed was set to leave Syria and was on his way to Turkey with Gift of the Givers when the abduction took place in rebel-held territory.
The day before the kidnapping, Mohamed had sent a text message to his friend and ex-wife Shirley Brijlal, saying: “There’s a risk I might be detained tomorrow, no big deal, SA government and Gift of the Givers will get me out.” Brijlal says this latest news of proof of life may help signify that Mohamed is closer to returning home.
During her own research into Mohamed’s disappearance, Brijlal said she spoke to others who had been abducted in Syria. They informed her that Mohamed has a better chance of being treated well by his abductors.
“Its good to know he’s ok,” she said.
“I spoke to past kidnap victims that said if you are Muslim you get certain privileges extended, so I haven’t been too concerned about that.”
Brijlal and the Mohameds are now waiting for any further messages from the anonymous caller which could perhaps bring Mohamed closer to home. Gift of the Givers, who have so far taken control of handling Mohamed’s release, have said that they do not yet know why Mohamed was taken and what the kidnappers want in exchange for his return.