South African photojournalist being held captive in Darkoush, Syria made a desperate appeal to the South African government and international community late Monday to help secure his release from gunmen who are demanding 1.5 million dollars in ransom.
Shiraaz Mohamed, who was kidnapped in early 2017 while documenting the suffering of Syrian refugees, pleaded for assistance in a new video released by his captors.
In the video, a masked gunman wearing a military uniform is seen walking into an underground prison where he finds Mohamed sleeping on the floor. Dressed in torn clothes, Mohamed is seen being blindfolded by the gunman and later handcuffed.
He is taken to another room where his blindfold is removed and the gunman starts shaving his beard.
The kidnappers are seen throwing an orange overall at Mohamed, which he catches and later wears. He kneels down and starts speaking in the video, which surfaced on social media.
“My name is Shiraaz Mohamed, a South African photographer. My government, my friends, Dr. Fekri Shabaan and anyone watching this video who can help me, please help me,” he said.
Shabaan has been involved in negotiations with Mohamed’s captors to free him.
“My life is still in danger. I’ve been living in captivity for almost three years now. I need your help. Please free me,” Mohamed said.
He also appealed to Shabaan to cooperate with his captors, or else they will harm him.
“Dr. Fekri Shabaan — these people are very angry with the way you are speaking with them. With the way you are doing the negotiations.
“My living conditions up until the last time you spoke with them were OK. My life has become very difficult. Please — I beg you Dr. Fekri Shaban — change the way you are speaking or negotiating with them.
“Listen to them and give them what they want. Please! My life is very difficult.”
Mohamed also said he fears that his captors might put a bullet in his head if his negotiators don’t cooperate.
“They are very angry at the moment. I’m not eating properly, and they say if I’m killed, you (Dr. Fekri) will be responsible for it. Help me, please! End this nightmare please!” he said.
In May, Mohamed’s captors sent a message demanding a ransom of 1.5 million dollars for his release, said relief agency Gift of the Givers, which is brokering his release.
Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of the relief agency, said the captors called his organization that month to commence negotiations for the journalist’s release after sending an initial video in April showing that Mohamed was still alive.
“I live in fear of my life. I am scared. The area that I am in has been bombed by the Russian air force; bombs are getting closer and closer. I need your help. Please help me,” he pleaded in the video.