Briton freed after six years describes life as al Qaida hostage

Stephen McGown

Held in Mali, West Africa for almost six years by al-Qaeda, McGowan said he converted to Islam to help him survive.

Authorities have previously said that Mr McGown was released following efforts by the South African and Swedish governments and the NGO Gift of the Givers.

A 42-year-old Swedish, Johan Gustafsson, held hostage by al Qaeda in Mali for almost six years, has said today that he did not know why he was released.

"They obviously would have really preferred me to have been British".

Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces. And he said "If you don't believe me you can walk, you can go" and it actually came through, like, "Well maybe he's not just pulling my leg and joking with me".

He paid tribute to his mother who died in May, saying she was "an incredible lady and I can imagine the difficulties she went through".

Mr McGown appeared at the press conference with long hair and a beard after many years spent in the desert.

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McGown recalled he was sometimes held in handcuffs and chains at night with two other hostages, and built a simple hut of grass and sticks to survive the cold desert nights when he often had only one blanket.

"I suppose you try and find routines, you try and find things that sort of give you an escapism from the situation, like doing a bit of exercise", he said.

"I think it's wrong to pay ransoms", Mr Gustafsson, who was freed in June, said.

The 42-year-old said his captors treated him better after he adopted Islam, giving him clothes, food and medication. I entered [Islam] of my own accord.

Sweden has insisted it never paid any ransom and that Mr Gustafsson's release was obtained through negotiations. But Imtiaz Sooliman said the extremists' initial demands started at 10 million euros per captive.

He added that his captors thought that US President Donald Trump would draw more Muslims to fight against the West.

McGown said he was "in the dark" about world events over the last six years as the hostages only had a radio for a short time and no books in English.

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