West & Central Africa

Missionary released in Mali but five still held by Al Qaeda

Stephen McGown, one of the six missionaries abducted by Al Qaeda in the Magreb (AQIM) has been released after a ransom payment of €3.5 million.

Stephen McGown was kidnapped while on a trip in Timbuktu in 2011. The Christian Missionaries still in captivity are Beatrice Stockly from Switzerland, first kidnapped in in 2013, by al-Qaida’s Ansar al-Dine (AQIM) accused of “proselytizing Christianity,” was held for 10 days. She was released and warned not to come back to Mali. She did go back and was kidnapped again January 15, 2016.
Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, over 60, from Colombia, was abducted on 7 February, and Elliot Kenneth Arthur, 82, a surgeon from Australia, kidnaped January 2016, along with his wife Jocelyn but she was later released, Iulian Ghergut from Romania, and Sophie Petronin from France.

An American missionary, Jeff Woodke, 56, working for Youth With A Mission (YWAM), was kidnapped 14 October 2016, in Abalak in northern Niger. On 11th July, Els Woodke, Jeff’s wife sent a video begging for the Jeff’s captors to at least get in touch with him. There has not been any response or news so far either by the terrorist group of Malian government.

McGown was released, July 25, after negotiations brokered by a Non-Governmental Organization, Gift of the Givers and “an operation managed by France and South African intelligence through an intermediary,” said Rukmini Callimachi, an expert on jihadi groups for the New York Times.

Stephen McGowan’s wife Catherine told a news conference that, “It’s been a very, very long time and I’m just so pleased this day has come… “We spoke about hope and hope is a funny thing. You’re hopeful and then you get bad news. You’re despondent and yet you still have hope. And then you get back on track and then you believe he’s going to come back home. But he doesn’t, but you still keep believing. It’s incredible.

“In terms of seeing Steve again, um, you play all these things in your head, how it’s going to be, what you’re going to say, where it’s going to be, I played all the scenarios in my mind.

“And this is not how it happened. So he came out and he looked at me and sort of said, ‘Wow, your hair’s grown.’ And I said, ‘Well, actually your hair is longer than mine now. Very long.’ I’m just very pleased.” Catherine said

Johan Gustafsson, who was kidnapped same day with Mr McGown, was released since in June after a negotiation brokered by the Swiss government.
In July, the terror group released a video showing the six abducted, as a proof of life in which the terror group asked the French government to negotiate the release of Sophie Petronin.

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco), in South Africa, denied that any ransome was paid for Mcgown’s release. “The South African government has no policy of paying ransoms,” he said. “No ransom was paid.”

Some Christian leaders in Mali have expressed their anxiety over the condition of the Christians held by the Al Qeada group, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen which claimed responsibility for the abductions in a video. The church leaders say that the Malian government and the international community are not making any concerted efforts to free the captives. The Swiss have been active in the release of some of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria and the Christian community in Mali is wondering if they can achieve the same feat in Mali.

“It is very important that we do not forget these brothers and sisters in Jihadists captivity. We are praying for them daily but we also need the government not to forget their responsibilities,” a Christian missionary working in Mali told Global Christian News.

Christian communities continue to call on Christians to “please pray for the protection of the country’s other foreign mission workers so that needed humanitarian aid can continue assisting the suffering people of Mali.”

 

Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN. He is also the Media Director and priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos.

Image Credits: Screengrab: Al Qaeda Propaganda video