Time running out for Shiraaz Mohamed's captors, say experts
Rebel groups in Syria are becoming increasingly desperate as government forces, assisted by Russian air strikes, are rapidly overrunning their territory.
It is this pressure that could have spurred the release of the video two weeks ago. Experts agree that the latest video is “posturing” by Mohamed’s kidnappers to try to secure a deal for the South African photojournalist.
To secure Mohamed’s release after more than two years in captivity is likely to require the assistance of neighbouring Turkey, which is likely supporting the rebels who are holding the South African.
“It is a negotiation strategy. There would be no benefit of beheading him, they just want to get the maximum out of him,” says Martin Ewi, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. “He has been the big fish for them.”
Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria in early 2017. In the latest video, he can be seen putting on an orange jumpsuit, the infamous garment Islamist extremists use to dress their prisoners in before executing them.
His captors also shaved his beard and Mohamed is heard pleading for his life.
“I feel they will put a bullet in my head,” he can be heard saying.
“The fact that there have been three videos in six months is a positive sign that there is something going on,” explains Ewi.
It has been reported that his kidnappers have demanded a ransom of $1.5million (R22.8m).
“Most likely the only way to get to him is through Turkey and a ransom will have to be paid,” says counterterrorism expert Jasmine Opperman, who adds the ANC and Turkey’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party recently signed a memorandum of understanding agreement.
South Africa, like countries such as the UK and the US, has a policy of not negotiating with terrorist organisations.
“And that is why you need backhand dealings with second parties,” Opperman says.
She pointed out that Stephen McGown’s release, after he had been held for more than five years by al-Qaeda in Mali, was secured after a ransom was paid.
The government is, however, tight-lipped about what it is doing to secure Mohamed’s release.
“All we can confirm is that we are working with the family to assist in his safe return,” says Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.
Mohamed’s family has also refused to comment on the latest video.
However the photographer’s ex-wife Shirley Brijlal says his mother is “inconsolable”.
There is an element of urgency.
“The rebels are being wiped out and because of this his life is in danger. It comes down to getting the money to the right people,” says Opperman.
But, ultimately, it’s about keeping the kidnappers happy.
“What you want is to continue to give them hope, even if they don’t get what they are asking. And that is very important in keeping the captive alive,” adds Ewi.