It has been a year since South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed made his successful escape from captivity, after being kidnapped in Syria by Islamic State in 2017.
Mohamed was captured three years ago in January 2017 while in Syria to photograph the suffering in the country. In April 2019, his captors released a proof-of-life video in which an unknown gunman can be seen behind Mohamed as he pleaded for his family and the international community to meet his captors’ demands of $1.5 million (about R21.7-million) and secure his release.
“Once free, I had no idea where I was going, I know I just needed to get as far away as possible from where I was kept. I made my way through the olive groves. It was raining since the previous evening and it was muddy, making it difficult for me to walk. I tried to avoid any roads and found it safer to be amongst the olive trees.”
Mohamed climbed up three mountains, almost slipping on two occasions, before arriving at a remote village. A man on a motorbike offered him a ride and agreed to take him to the hospital, although he was suspicious of Mohamed and wanted to know where he came from and how he arrived in the village.
“Eventually he stopped outside a small supermarket and we went inside. I tried to avoid telling people that I was kidnapped, out of fear of getting re kidnapped by them. In Syria that is a very big possibility. But the more I tried to avoid telling them that I was kidnapped the more suspicious I made myself look.
“It drove the guy behind a small desk crazy. He jumped up as if to attack me. He did not. A guy clad in full military uniform walked into the supermarket to buy cigarettes. He spoke English and they told him about me.”
After explaining the truth about his kidnapping, the men called the police to take Mohamed to the hospital. The police would then verify his kidnapping story and take him to the Turkish border, which would allow him to return home.
“I was taken to a ‘police station’ where this photo was taken for verification purposes. The scratches on my hand is from the wire mesh. I cut my toe open in the process of making my way up to the ground level. The guys at the ‘police station’ showed me videos of myself while I was kidnapped. I asked to phone my family…”
Mohamed ends his story here, and thanks all those who supported his family during his three years of captivity. He plans on writing a book about his experience.
He added: “The thing about getting kidnapped is, when you are kidnapped, a part of your family also gets kidnapped, they are also imprisoned.”