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Swedish al-Qaeda hostage Johan Gustafsson home and reunited with family

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Swedish al-Qaeda hostage Johan Gustafsson home and reunited with family
Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT
07:20 CEST+02:00
Johan Gustafsson, who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Mali in 2011, has returned home after more than five years in captivity, his family and the Swedish government confirmed on Monday.

“I'm very pleased to announce that Johan has today been able to return to Sweden and be reunited with his family,” Foreign Minister Margot Wallström told reporters late on Monday as she showed a picture of Gustafsson surrounded by his family after he arrived home.

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

Wallström 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, diplomats and Swedish and international authorities.

She 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”.

A Malian security source meanwhile told AFP that Mali officials “helped secure the release of the Swedish hostage. He was released in the Mali desert”.

Gustafsson's family, from Värnamo in southern Sweden, had repeatedly pleaded for his release in statements to the media, but declined to meet reporters on his first day back home on Swedish soil.

But his mother, Mari-Anne Gustafsson, told the TT news wire that her son was in good health.

“We wanted to take it easy this evening. But it's of course great, absolutely. It's amazing,” she said.

“We are so thankful and happy. We still had our hope, but there wasn't much of it left.”


Johan Gustafsson reunited with his family at Arlanda Airport, Sweden. Photo: Handout

Gustafsson, 42, was abducted in Timbuktu, northern Mali, in November 2011 along with South African national Stephen McGown and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke.

Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces.

The Swedish foreign ministry provided no details about McGown's fate. His father, Malcolm McGown, told AFP from his home in Johannesburg that their family had no news of Stephen.

“We have heard nothing about our son. It would have been good for both of them to be released at the same time, but there's nothing much we can do about it,” he said.

“I have no details of how the release (of Johan) took place. It's Eid and maybe Johan's release was a good gesture. I'm just not sure what the plan is with Stephen.”

Gustafsson was on a motorcycle trip from Sweden to South Africa when he was kidnapped. He, Rijke and McGown were seized along with several other Westerners 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 jihadist groups that took control of Mali's north in 2012 before being ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

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