A South African man who was held hostage by al-Qaida in Mali for almost six years said he converted to Islam to help cope with the ordeal.
Stephen McGown, who also holds British citizenship, was set free at the end of July after being kidnapped in 2011 at a hostel in Timbuktu, where he had been staying while travelling across the Sahara on a motorbike.
He was the longest-held of the “Timbuktu Three”, who were seized by Islamist extremists in Mali. A fourth man, a German tourist, was killed during the kidnapping.
In his first appearance before media since his release, McGown, still sporting long hair and a beard from his years in captivity, said he was not under duress to convert from Catholicism to Islam and insisted it did not play a part in his release.
“I see a lot of good in Islam. It has opened my eyes. It’s taken me away from capitalism,” he told reporters. He revealed that he feared for his life three times during his time in captivity, but stopped after his conversion.
Joking with reporters, he added: “I’ll probably keep the beard. I see all of my friends are growing them. They’ve become funky.”
At a press conference in Johannesburg, McGown showed no sign of anger towards his captors, even though he was not released in time to be reunited with his ailing mother, Beverly, who died in May.
Flanked by his father, Malcolm, and wife, Catherine, McGown said his mother was in a “better place”.
He claimed he was “treated well” by his captors and said they often “prioritised” his needs ahead of their own. Asked what he missed most during his time in captivity, McGown replied “freedom”.
McGown was treated in hospital for several days after his release and has suffered with headaches and other minor ailments.
Source: The Guardian