Photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria and information on his whereabouts remains scant. Picture: Supplied
It has been five months since South African photographer Shiraaz Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria, with no ransom announced yet.

Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman described it as unusual that nobody has come forward with a ransom demand.

Mohamed went missing in North Syria, after being kidnapped in January this year, while travelling to the Turkish border from the Gift of the Givers Ar Rahma Hospital in Darkoush.

Sooliman said Mohamed’s kidnappers told the drivers from Gift of the Givers they wanted to take him in for questioning to “clear a misunderstanding and would return him to the hospital in 48 hours”.

To date, they are still waiting for Mohamed to be brought back.

At the time Mohamed was taken, Sooliman said there had been a number of protests throughout North Syria, with “citizens demanding his release and calling for whoever captured him to be punished”.

He added: “We approached at least 15 groups either directly or indirectly at the highest level. These included Nusra, Al Aqsa Brigades, Ahrar al Sham and many others. In the beginning most groups pointed fingers at Nusra, but in time it doesn’t appear that they are holding him.

“Nusra gave an open invitation to foreign journalists to come and report independently what’s happening in Syria.

They guaranteed protection for the journalists so it appears unlikely that they would have Shiraaz.

“All prisons were thoroughly searched, many areas were raided by different groups but there was no sign of Shiraaz,” he said.

Sooliman said it had been a most confusing case as the kidnappers had not “shown” themselves, “meaning no one has come forward with any demands”.

“There’s no request for ransom, nor a request for an exchange of prisoners nor an announcement that he has been executed because he was a spy or something to that effect. There was a rumour that he went to join one or other group.

“Every group dispelled that and said he is not with them. It appears whoever took him is afraid to reveal who they are because of the serious repercussions from other groups who say that this was unacceptable behaviour.”

But there was a glimmer of hope when three individuals on three different occasions separately approached the hospital claiming they had video footage of Mohamed showing he is alive. However, they all wanted money in exchange for the footage.

“We said many people have offered that, but we will only pay once the video arrives. None of them came back. Then about two weeks ago one of the European governments called one of our embassies in Europe and asked if it was true that a South African was captured in Syria in January.

“They said yes. That government said they were questioning an asylum-seeker from Syria and he started speaking about Shiraaz. It was totally unrelated to their questioning. This person said Shiraaz entered Syria in January and that he was working in some refugee camps taking pictures and handing out food.”

He said the South African embassy contacted him and he informed them that what the person had told them was true. “The asylum-seeker mentioned that Shiraaz was alive and he was aware where he was being held.

I then put forward a list of questions to our embassy to forward to the European Government. We are still waiting for a response.”

He admitted they were baffled by the case. “Until someone makes a ransom demand or some individual comes forward with valuable information we are at a loss as to who is holding Shiraaz, where and why.

“In the meantime the family is in deep pain, waiting patiently in anxiety. They say that every day it’s as if there is a funeral in their home. Our efforts to find him continue relentlessly,” said Sooliman.

Mohamed’s sister, Sumaya Mohamed, said the family was going through a very difficult time.

“This is an especially difficult time, not having our brother with us during this blessed month of Ramadaan.

“Most evenings we break our fast in tears, but always with prayer, hope and faith that the Almighty will help our brother through this and return him home to us safe and soon.

We thank the Gift of the Givers for their continued efforts and support and the support of everyone out there.”

Weekend Argus Sunday