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South African freelance journalist kidnapped in Syria

Published on 14/01/2017

A freelance South African photojournalist has been kidnapped at gunpoint in northwestern Syria, near the Turkish border, his family and an aid organisation said in statements released on Saturday.

Shiraaz Mohamed was on his way out of the war-torn country on Tuesday when he and two employees from the South Africa-based Gift of The Givers charity were seized.

The incident occurred at a hospital run by the charity in Darkouch, a town 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Aleppo, Syria’s second city.

“When they passed the Gift of the Givers Al Hilal Hospital, two cars suddenly boxed them in,” Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the charity, said of the kidnapping in a text message sent to AFP.

“They opened the doors, put a gun to the head of our two people and looked at Shiraaz.”

According to Sooliman the kidnappers said that they had to question Mohamed because of “some misunderstanding” but then pledged that they would “return him in two days”.

All three had been blindfolded but the charity’s two workers were released. “When our two asked who they (the kidnappers) were, they said they represent all groups inside Syria,” Sooliman added.

Mohamed’s family said they were devastated at the news and “praying for his safety and immediate release”.

His ex-girlfriend, Shaaziya Brijlal said she’d heard from him on Monday when he warned that he could be detained.

“He texted me saying he was leaving Syria the next day, saying: ‘There’s a risk I might be detained tomorrow, no big deal. But wait for my message to tell you what to do,” said Brijlal.

Contacted by AFP, the South African foreign ministry, which closed its embassy in Syria for security reasons, was not able to confirm the kidnapping.

Talks on the future of Syria were announced in late December after a nationwide ceasefire was secured. They are being organised for the first time without the involvement of the United States, which had led all international discussions to resolve the Syrian crisis in recent years.

Turkey, co-hosting the talks with Russia, has said Washington would be asked to join the dialogue being held in the Kazakh capital Astana — likely on January 23, three days after US President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in.