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MALI

Swedish hostage appeals for help in video

Three Westerners abducted nearly nine months ago by Al-Qaeda in Mali have urged their governments to help free them, Al-Jazeera television reported on Tuesday, airing footage of the hostages.

The men, identified by Al-Jazeera as British-South African hostage Stephen Malcolm, Swede Johan Gustafson and Dutch national Sjaak Rijke, appeared in good health in the video which was not accompanied by audio.

The hostages were bearded, wore traditional flowing robes and their heads were covered by turbans. They were shown sitting on rugs in a desert area surrounded by armed men.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been holding the three men hostage since abducting them in the north Mali city of Timbuktu on November 25, 2011.

Al-Jazeera said in a statement that it conducted an “exclusive interview” with the hostages who gave a detailed account of their abduction in November 2011 and urged their respective governments to step up efforts to free them.

“The captives urged their countries to engage in swift and effective negotiations with the kidnappers to bring their turmoil to an end,” according to the statement.

They also said “they were taken from their hotel in Timbuktu at gunpoint into an SUV vehicle and transported to unknown whereabouts. After that they were forced into a strenuous 24-hour journey,” it added.

“Later the kidnappers promised that no harm would be done to the captives who told Al-Jazeera that they have been well treated.”

According to Al-Jazeera the hostages were seized by Ansar Dine, an Islamist group affiliated to AQIM, along with a German national who was killed as he resisted his abduction.

In December AQIM claimed responsibility for the abductions and released pictures of the hostages.

In April it offered to free Malcolm if London allows radical cleric Abu Qatada to choose a country for his extradition, the US monitoring service SITE reported at the time.

For more than six years, Britain has been trying to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia in 1998 of involvement in attacks.

AQIM is also holding six French citizens kidnapped from Niger and Mali.

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MALI

Swede held hostage by al-Qaeda since 2011 freed

Johan Gustafsson, a Swede who was kidnapped in Mali more than five years ago, has been released.

Swede held hostage by al-Qaeda since 2011 freed
A screenshot of a video published in 2015. Photo: YouTube/via TT

“It is with great pleasure that I can announce that Johan Gustafsson has been released and can return to Sweden. Johan's situation has touched many of us and extensive efforts have been made to get him released,” said Foreign Minister Margot Wallström in a statement on Monday.

She said his release was the result of several agencies working together, including the foreign ministry, the police and Swedish and foreign authorities.

“I have already spoken to Johan and he was in good spirits and overwhelmed by everything that's going on,” Wallström told Swedish radio, saying she would hold a press conference later in the evening.

Aftonbladet reported that Gustafsson, 42, landed at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport on Monday afternoon.

Gustafsson, from Värnamo in southern Sweden, was kidnapped in Timbuktu, northern Mali, in November 2011 together with South African Stephen McGowan and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke. May 17th marked his 2000th day in captivity.

The trio were kidnapped by a group of armed men on the terrace of their hotel along with several other Westerners, including Rijke's wife who managed to escape. A German who tried to resist the abduction was killed.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. It was among several jihadist groups that took control of Mali's north in 2012 before being ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces. The Swedish foreign ministry did not comment on McGowan's fate.