2 hostages freed by al-Qaida make 1st public appearances

2 hostages freed by al-Qaida make 1st public appearances

2 hostages freed by al-Qaida make 1st public appearances

McGown says that not being able to contact his family, not having any books in English and not being able to exercise freely were some of his difficulties.

Islamic extremists in northern Mali have made significant sums of money during the last decade by kidnapping foreigners and holding them to ransom.

After almost six years as a hostage of the al Qaeda group in Mali, South African tourist Stephen McGowan said he would keep the beard that brushes his chest when he bows to speak into the microphone.

He was among the longest-held Western hostages by the group until he was finally set free on July 25.

In his first public appearance, Johan Gustafsson told reporters that fleeing his captors had been "out of the question". It was not clear if a ransom was paid for his release.

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The founder of South African aid organisation Gift of the Givers Foundation, which helped mediate Mr McGown's release, said he did not know whether any ransom was paid or any prisoners exchanged for the men's release.

The driver in my vehicle turned to me and said to me: "You are free, you can go", and I was like, "Yeah, OK, alright".

Mr Gustafsson had been on a motorcycle tour of Africa when he was seized.

Released South African Stephen McGowan, who was kidnapped by al Qaeda in Mali in 2011, addresses a media conference with his father Malcolm McGowan and wife Catherine McGowan, in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 10, 2017.

"I did my best to see the best in a bad situation", he said.

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A Dutch tourist who was also taken at the same time was freed by a French raid in 2015. His mother died in May.

"My mum is a big blow", he said. "It would have been first prize for them if I was British", McGowan said.

Mr McGown appeared at the press conference with long hair and a beard after many years spent in the desert.

He described how he learned some Arabic during his time in captivity, and his captors offered him clothing, food and medication.

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