South African Hostage Gerco van Deventer Freed by Al Qaeda After Six Years in Captivity

In a significant development, South African hostage Gerco van Deventer has been unconditionally released by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) in Mali. The release, which took place on Saturday, marks the end of a harrowing period of captivity lasting six years and one month.

Van Deventer, who was abducted in Libya in November 2017, became South Africa’s longest-held foreign hostage. Gift of the Givers, a humanitarian organization, played a pivotal role in securing his release. The organization had previously engaged with JNIM for the release of other hostages, including Stephen McGown, Johan Gustafsson, and Christo Bothma.

According to Gift of the Givers founder Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman, negotiations for Van Deventer’s release faced numerous challenges. The initial ransom demand was set at $3 million, which was eventually negotiated down to $500,000 over time. The family, unable to afford the ransom and lacking external support, turned to Gift of the Givers for assistance. Dr. Sooliman emphasized that the organization does not pay ransoms but serves as a facilitator for distressed families seeking the return of their loved ones.

Dr. Sooliman recounted the journey to Van Deventer’s release, highlighting the role of religious and timely interventions. Negotiations had stalled due to a lack of funds and leverage, but in January 2023, talks resumed at the request of an intermediary contact in Mali. Various efforts, including appeals during Ramadan and Hajj, as well as a connection with the Morocco Earthquake, played a role in restarting negotiations.

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The unexpected murder of Gift of the Givers’ office head in Gaza, Ahmed Abbasi, added complexity to the situation. Despite facing challenges, the organization persisted in its efforts. A call received on December 5 from an unfamiliar contact in Mauritania indicated progress in securing Van Deventer’s release.

Late on Saturday night, Gift of the Givers was informed by intermediaries that Van Deventer had been released into Algeria. The specific reasons for choosing this route, as opposed to Mali, were attributed to the ongoing conflict between the Mali military and the Tuaregs.

Efforts are now underway to expedite Gerco van Deventer’s return to South Africa, where he is eagerly awaited by his wife Shereen and son Asher. The release represents a welcome conclusion to a protracted and challenging ordeal for Van Deventer and his family.