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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2395

Swedish hostage held in Mali since 2011 freed

Stockholm, 27 June, (Asiantribune.com):

Swede who had been held hostage by al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been freed, the Swedish government has announced.

Sweden's Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Johan Gustafsson, who was held hostage by al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011, has been released.

Gustafsson was abducted by a group of armed insurgents on the terrace of his hotel in Timbuktu in November 2011, along with South African national Stephen McGowan and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. It was one of several Islamist groups to take control of northern Mali in in 2012, before being pushed back from their strongholds by French military forces the following year.

The kidnappers had allegedly demanded $5 million (4.5 million euros) for Gustafsson's release, a demand reportedly rejected by the Swedish government. The Foreign Ministry also refused to comment on whether a ransom was ultimately paid.

Johan Gustafsson returned home and was reunited with his family, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told reporters late on Monday as she showed a picture of the ex-captive surrounded by his relatives.

I welcomed him home, and I can say that he is in good health and is holding up well, given the circumstances," she said.

Wallstrom refused to provide details about how Sweden secured Gustafsson's release, saying only that it occurred "a couple of days ago" and was the result of "several years of efforts" by police, politicians and diplomats, as well as Swedish and international authorities.

Earlier, it was reported that kidnappers had allegedly demanded $5 million (4.5 million euros) for Gustafsson's release, a demand reportedly rejected by the Swedish government. The Foreign Ministry also refused to comment on whether a ransom was ultimately paid.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom also did not comment on whether a ransom was paid. She said only that "Sweden's policy is to not pay ransoms in the event of kidnappings".

'Malian officials helped'

A Malian security source meanwhile told the AFP news agency that officials in the West African country had "helped secure the release of the Swedish hostage. He was released in the Mali desert".

Gustafsson was on a motorcycle trip from Sweden to South Africa when he was kidnapped.

He, Rijke and McGown were seized along with several others by a group of armed men while on the terrace of their hotel.

Rijke's wife managed to escape, but a German who tried to resist the abduction was killed.

Al-Qaeda's North African affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

It was one of several groups that took control of Mali's north in 2012 before being overthrown by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

Sources: Aljazeera and News Agencies

- Asian Tribune -

Freed hostage Johan Gustafsson and his family at Arlanda airport after his arrival in Sweden
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