The captors of SA photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed have split into two groups, with one continuing their demands for a ransom and the other pushing for him to be released unconditionally.
This new information was released by humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman on Tuesday after a second video of Mohamed was posted to social media by Mohamed’s captors.
It has been more than two years since Mohamed was captured in Syria while on his way back to the Turkish border after accompanying Gift of the Givers.
Two drivers captured with Mohamed were released immediately and were told he was being held for “questioning”.
It is believed that he has been held in captive since then, although very little information has emerged since his disappearance.
After proof that he was alive emerged in April, a US$1.5m (R21.5m) ransom demand was made in exchange for Mohamed’s release.
News24 previously reported that Gift of the Givers made it clear that they could not pay the ransom as they did not have that kind of money at their disposal.
Letters from religious leaders were also sent to the captors asking for Mohamed to be freed unconditionally.
“After having received the ransom request of 1.5m USD we communicated with the intermediary on May 5, 6, 8 and 12,” Sooliman said on Tuesday.
“The intermediary has been very good and understanding and says he is trying to convince the captors to release Shiraaz unconditionally.”
Sooliman added that the letters and information that the ransom could not be paid was met with mixed reaction by Mohamed’s captors.
“One group still wants the ransom. We didn’t pursue the discussion to reduce the amount as that creates expectancy. The second group said release him unconditionally.”
“There is no finality which way it is going as yet.”
In April, a video was released which showed a masked man clad in a black top and camouflage pants, with an assault rifle, standing behind Mohamed as the photojournalist begs for help.
“Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, my South African president, my family, my friends, the international community, anyone that can help… I need your help,” he said.
“I live in fear of my life… I am scared. The area that I am in is being bombed by the Russian air force… the bombs are getting closer and closer and closer. I need your help. Please help me.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Sooliman said after the second video of Mohamed was brought to their attention, they checked in with the individual who sent the first video.
“He was very surprised to hear of this and was not aware of it,” Sooliman said.
“It seems to be a modified version of the one that was initially sent to us so we are not paying too much attention to it.”
Sooliman added that the intermediary said communicating with the captors is far more complex now with all the bombing.
“However, he has sent a message today to ask for an explanation on who circulated the new video and what its purpose was.”
Middle Eastern governments approached for help
Sooliman said the intermediary, of his own volition, had approached two Middle Eastern governments to assist with the payment of the ransom.
Both governments, which were not named, declined to help.
The intermediary also emphasised that the real concern right now is the intense bombing on Syria.