shiraaz mohamed

Shiraaz Mohamed: Dirco to look into news of journalist’s Syrian escape

Two years after being taken hostage in Syria, South African journalist Shiraaz Mohamed has reportedly escaped from his captors.

shiraaz mohamed

The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) said it’s looking into claims that South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed has escaped from captivity in Syria.

“Through our consular services, we are looking into the matter and we will only be able to comment at a later stage when we have been able to verify the whereabouts of Shiraaz Mohamed,”Dirco spokesperson Lunga Nqengelele said.

Gift of the Givers tipped off

Non-profit disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers announced on Sunday that it had received information from an unknown source that Mohamed was free after escaping from his captors.

According to the organisation, they have informed Shiraaz’s family, International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor and Dirco shortly after receiving the news.

“[Gift of the Givers] received the encouraging news from an unknown source yesterday. We now wait for the South African government to make contact with the state intelligence agency of Turkey to bring Shiraaz home as soon as possible”, the relief organisation tweeted.

Mohamed’s family has since said confirmation of his escape will be issued once they have received sufficient information.

“The family of Shiraaz Mohamed would like to respond to the latest news regarding his release. However, considering the sensitive nature of his circumstance we believe it is irresponsible to make any public comment as it may endanger his life. We will keep the media informed once we have received independent confirmation that Shiraaz is safely with the relevant authorities,” the family said in a statement.

How was Shiraaz Mohamed taken hostage?

Mohamed was in Syria, documenting the work of Gift of the Givers, the same organisation which – since he was taken hostage by unknown gunmen – had been facilitating his release. He was in the war-torn country to highlight  the plight of refugees and civilians displaced by the ongoing conflict in 2017.

The photojournalist was captured by unknown men in Darkoush, along the Turkish border with Syria, in 2017 when he was accused of being a foreign spy.

Gift of Givers has since withdrawn from Shiraaz’s case on 26 June 2019 as the family had decided to go with an “alternative option”.

Pleading for release in proof-of-life video

In April 2019, a proof-of-life video was released by his captors. In the clip, an unknown gunman is seen behind him as he pleads for his release and calls on his family and the international community to intervene in securing his release.

“I live in fear of my life. I am scared. We are being bombed. The area that I am in is being bombed by the Russian air force. The bombs are getting closer and closer and closer. I need your help. Please help me,” Mohamed says.

Ransom set too high

His kidnappers had wanted a reported $1.5-million (about R21.7-million) ransom to secure his safe return home in May.

“The demand for Shiraaz’s release is $1.5m. We made it clear that this was not possible. We stated that Shiraaz’s family does not have the means, nor is Shiraaz the employee of a large corporate company that could assist with payment and the SA government will not pay. They said they are giving us time to consider options,” Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said at the time.