South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed has been kidnapped in Syria. Picture: Facebook
South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed has been kidnapped in Syria. Picture: Facebook

Family devastated over #ShiraazMohamed's kidnapping

By ANA Reporter Time of article published Jan 14, 2017

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Johannesburg – A South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed has been kidnapped in Syria and is still missing after four days despite promises that he would be released within two days, humanitarian aid group Gift of the Givers said on Saturday.

His family in Johannesburg say they are devastated by at his disappearance.

Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman said in a text message that he had been in touch with his teams in Syria and according to them the kidnapping took place at 3.45pm on Tuesday near the charity’s Al Hilal hospital on the Aljamiliye Road.

“Shiraaz was on his way with two of our people to the Turkish border on his way out of Syria. They took the road they normally take when transporting patients by ambulance. It’s a relatively safe route. There’s never been an incident here in all these years.

“When they passed the Gift of the Givers Al Hilal hospital two cars suddenly boxed them in. Our driver hooted at them to move out of the way. A few men with guns got off, they were very calm, and came to the car. They opened the doors‚ put a gun to the head of our two people, and looked at Shiraaz.

“Our people told them not to take Shiraaz as it could harm support for the hospital. They replied that they think that there is some misunderstanding and that they need to question him and will return him in two days‚” he said.

“They then blindfolded the three of them and drove for about an hour. Within five minutes of them taking off from the point of capture, one of our people’s cellphone rang. They confiscated it.

“At the end of an hour they stopped at a certain point and got off. They asked if Shiraaz is a foreigner. Our people replied yes. They asked if he has a passport. They said yes. They asked if he’s Muslim they said yes. They asked about the Turkish delegation that entered Syria earlier that day. They said they don’t know. They asked about Dr Ahmad who heads the Gift of the Givers Hospital. They said everyone knows him because he helps everyone.

“They then released the two and returned the cellphone. When our two asked who they were, they said they represent all groups inside Syria. When our two asked where they were now, they gave the name of the area and precise location (I can’t mention it for now). Our [guys] said don’t harm Shiraaz because he is a guest.

“They said they only want to question him and will return him in two days to the Gift of the Givers Ar Rahma Hospital. They want to clear a misunderstanding. What misunderstanding we don’t know‚” Sooliman said.

He said he would inform the international relations and co-operation department about the incident on Saturday. Later on Saturday, Mohamed's ex-wife Shaaziya Brijlal said the family was devastated at the news of his disappearance.

"Shiraaz’s passion for his pics and for people led him into a distinguished career as an international photographer of note, with his pics being featured regularly in New York Times among others," she said in a statement.

"His Facebook pages clearly document this. Last year, he travelled to 12 international countries. He flew to Nepal to cover the earthquakes on a solo trip knowing that he may not return but did it anyway for the love of photography.

"At a local level he was the publishing editor of Ennerdale Sun and Roshnee Gazette, starting off his career in Southern Globe – all local community tabloids in the south of Johannesburg. Over the past 13 years his publishing career catapulted him onto the internal news scene, more so in the past three years.

"He was fearless in this pursuit, facing life threatening situations on many an occasion. His pics of the xenophobic violence unfolding in Johannesburg last year featured all over the world. He was determined to document all of life events and planned for several international trips this year," she said.

For months he had been talking of going to Syria and did so – a trip facilitated by Gift of the Givers. His photographs were last posted on January 7 on his Facebook pages#ArtofLife#OnAssignment#VictimsOfWar#PrayforSyria#GiftoftheGivers.

He arrived there on Wednesday last week.

"On Monday, January 9, he texted me saying he was leaving Syria the next day, saying: 'There’s a risk I might be detained tomorrow, no big deal, SA government and Gift of the Givers will get me out. I need you to communicate with my family please. But, wait for my message to tell you what to do'.

"My last communication with him was at 3.15 on Tuesday, at 3.17pm while on his way to the Turkish border. Earlier, at 12.48pm he indicated that he should be at the border by 3pm and that if I did not hear from him by 6.30pm I was to contact Ahmed Bham. An hour later he said that I should wait until 8pm to call Bham. We have not heard from him since.

"As a family, we are devastated. The 'not knowing’ is the hardest part. We met with Ahmed Bham yesterday (on Friday) to get clarity on the sequence of events leading up [to] his disappearance. We acknowledge, and are deeply grateful, for the co-operation and ongoing communications we are receiving from Gift of the Givers.

"We are also thankful to his fellow colleagues in the media industry who have been rallying to assist with updates through contacts in Syria. We are praying for his safety and immediate release. His mum, Shireen Mohamed, begs anyone who may have him to please let him return safely to us," Brijlal said.

African News Agency

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