By Agence France-Presse
A Swede who had been held hostage by Al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been freed and has returned home, the Swedish government said Monday, but the fate of a fellow hostage from South Africa remains unknown.
“I’m very pleased to announce that Johan (Gustafsson) has today been able to return to Sweden and be reunited with his family,” Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told reporters late Monday as she showed a picture of Gustafsson surrounded by his family after he arrived home.
“I welcomed him home, and I can say that he is in good health and is holding up well, given the circumstances,” she said.
Wallstrom refused to provide details about how Sweden secured Gustafsson’s release, saying only that it occurred “a couple of days ago” and was the result of “several years of efforts” by police, politicians, diplomats and Swedish and international authorities.
She also did not comment on whether a ransom was paid. She said only that “Sweden’s policy is to not pay ransoms in the event of kidnappings.”
A Malian security source meanwhile told AFP that Mali officials “helped secure the release of the Swedish hostage. He was released in the Mali desert.”
Gustafsson, 42, was abducted in Timbuktu, northern Mali, in November 2011 along with South African national Stephen McGown and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke.
Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces.
The Swedish foreign ministry provided no details about McGown’s fate.
His father, Malcolm McGown, told AFP from his home in Johannesburg that their family had no news of Stephen.
“We have heard nothing about our son. It would have been good for both of them to be released at the same time, but there’s nothing much we can do about it,” he said.
“I have no details of how the release (of Johan) took place. It’s Eid and maybe Johan’s release was a good gesture. I’m just not sure what the plan is with Stephen.”
Gustafsson was on a motorcycle trip from Sweden to South Africa when he was kidnapped.
He, Rijke and McGown were seized along with several other Westerners by a group of armed men while on the terrace of their hotel.
Rijke’s wife managed to escape, but a German who tried to resist the abduction was killed.