British hostage held by Al-Qaeda in Mali pleads for government to negotiate for his freedom
Photo: Hostages: Stephen Malcolm, who has dual British and South African citizenship (centre), Sjaak Rijke from the Netherlands (right) and Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson (left) appear in good condition in video footage broadcast by Al Jazeera last night
Three Western hostages, including a Briton, seized by Al-Qaeda militants in Mali last year have urged their governments to negotiate their release.
The men – Stephen Malcolm, who has dual British and South African citizenship, Sjaak Rijke from the Netherlands and Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson – appeared in good condition in video footage of the captives broadcast by Al Jazeera last night and posted on its website.
They were seized on November 25 while walking along a street in the northern Malian town of Timbuktu. A fourth person in the group was killed.
The kidnapping took place weeks before secular and Islamist rebels, some with links to Al-Qaeda, took up arms against Mali’s government. The insurgents later took advantage of the chaos surrounding a March coup to take control of the country’s desert north.
In the footage, Al Jazeera showed the three men arrive on vehicles used by the militants, then walk around and sit down.
Their voices could not be heard, and appeared to have been dubbed over with a reporter’s voice, quoting them as saying they were being treated well and demanding their governments to negotiate their release.
In one released image, the three men, all sporting long beards and wearing traditional clothes worn by local tribesmen, sit on rugs laid out in a desert hollow, surrounded by masked gunmen dressed entirely in black.
In a video released last month, the hostages appeared before a flag similar to ones used by Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine which, along with Al-Qaeda faction MUJWA, now controls two-thirds of Mali’s desert north, territory that includes Timbuktu.
Al-Qaeda in North Africa said in December it had carried out the kidnapping.
It has also said it was holding six Frenchmen – two abducted from their hotel in the northern Mali town of Hombori in November, the other four kidnapped in September 2010 in neighbouring Niger.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the six were alive, but had been separated.
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