South African photographer, Shiraaz Mohamed, is believed to have been kidnapped by individuals who said they “represent all groups inside Syria” near the Gift of the Givers Foundation’s Al-Hilal Hospital in Syria almost two weeks ago. Picture: Supplied
South African photographer, Shiraaz Mohamed, is believed to have been kidnapped by individuals who said they “represent all groups inside Syria” near the Gift of the Givers Foundation’s Al-Hilal Hospital in Syria almost two weeks ago. Picture: Supplied

Any little clue could help bring Shiraaz Mohammed home

By Shaun Smillie Time of article published Jan 21, 2017

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Johannesburg - It is a clue that could come from a number plate or a tip from a concerned citizen, a snippet of information that could ultimately help bring photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed home.

Eleven days ago Mohammed was taken when he tried to leave Syria for the Turkish border. Since then no one has heard from him or from the people who took him. For his family, it has become a waiting game.

“I have realised that we need to be patient, this is not like Joburg, in the Middle East things take time,” said Shirley Brijlal , Mohamed’s ex wife and friend.

However in Syria, humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers, who Mohamed was with when he was abducted, are continuing to try to get the message out that a South African is missing. “We have people driving into areas to identify cars, to see if we can identify the car used to abduct Shiraaz. We are calling on any group who has him to call us,” Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman said.

Sooliman said they have also been in contact with various governments in the region to see if they have any information about the incident.

Mohamed was taken, according to Gift of the Givers by armed men who said it was because of a misunderstanding. Before being whisked away he was asked if he was a Muslim, a foreigner and if he had a passport. Two other questions are more confusing, according to Sooliman. He was asked if he knew about a Turkish delegation that had passed through and if he knew the well known Syrian doctor Ahmad Ghandour.

“We are trying to make sense of those questions,” said Sooliman. Back in South Africa Anis al-Hamati, the negotiator who helped secure the release of Yolande Korkie, in Yemen is working with a team to figure out how to get in touch with the people that have Mohamed.

Al-Hamati speaks Arabic and Sooliman says he has a deep understanding of the region. “They are trying to look at different scenarios and looking at different options. We need someone to negotiate with,” said Sooliman. Sometimes, he said, it takes time for a ransom note or other message to get through.

Martin Ewi, of the Institute of Security Studies, a kidnapping expert said usually with an abduction the kidnappers will quickly send what he calls “proof of life”, to verify their captive is still alive.

“The problem is we just don’t know what has happened there are just so many scenarios,” he said. Ewi explained that Syria is in the processes of becoming a kidnapping hot spot as gangs and groups like Islamic State see it as a more lucrative form of income.

“The problem with IS is they have lost ground, and revenue. They are looking for new ways of making income, so I suspect in the coming months there will be more kidnappings for ransom.”

If he has been kidnapped, Ewi believes the more noise Gift of the Givers makes about him, the more his kidnappers will think he is important and look after him. It is also important he said to emphasise he is South African.

But for Brijlal there is little she can do, until she finds out just why he was taken. “All I can say is Shiraaz is no terrorist, he is a fun loving guy into hiking who was there to document human suffering.”

Saturday Star

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