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Swede freed by al Qaeda after six years captivity

David Martin AFP
June 26, 2017

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 in Timbuktu, along with a South African and Dutch national.

Schweden Geiselbefreiung Johan Gustafsson
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Ericsson

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom confirmed on Monday that Johan Gustafsson was on his way back to Sweden after officials secured his release from an al Qaeda prison in Mali.

"It is with great pleasure that I can announce that Johan Gustafsson has been released and can return to Sweden," Wallstrom said in a statement. "Johan's situation has touched many of us and extensive efforts have been made to get him released."

Wallstrom praised the "considerable efforts" to secure Gustafsson's release made by Sweden's foreign ministry, along with the poliec and other Swedish foreign authorities.

Speaking to Swedish Radio, Wallstrom said: "I've already spoken with Johan and he is doing well and is overwhelmed by everything going on."

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.

Rijke's wife managed to escape, while a German national was killed trying resist the abductors. 

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.

Rijke was freed two years ago by the French military when he was discovered by chance in a dawn raid on AQIM.

McGowan's fate remains unknown. The Swedish ministry did not comment on the South African's wellbeing.

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.