South African held hostage by Al-Qaeda in Mali freed: govt

Johannesburg (AFP) –


A South African held hostage by Al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been freed, the country's foreign minister said on Thursday.

"Our fellow South African Stephen McGown was released on 29 July 2017," Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters.

McGown, 42, was abducted in Timbuktu in northern Mali in November 2011 along with Swede Johan Gustafsson and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke by a group of armed men while on the terrace of their hotel.

Gustafsson was released in June while Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces.

"We give him a warm welcome back home particularly that he lands home with a mother who has passed on during his incarceration," said the South African minister.

"He was just a tourist in Timbuktu. We are happy that he is a free man."

Al-Qaeda's North African affiliate Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of the three men.

It was one of several jihadist groups that took control of Mali's north in 2012 before being ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

"We are appalled this kind of activity, of Al-Qaeda... that goes into the kidnapping of innocent citizens," said the minister.