‘Islam saved me’ says al-Qaeda hostage Stephen McGown who converted in captivity

A Briton held captive by al-Qaeda for six years has described how his conversion to Islam saved his life and insisted that he would retain his Muslim faith.

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Stephen McGown, 42, who also holds South African citizenship, was kidnapped at gunpoint by jihadists in Mali in 2011, with two tourists, from Sweden and the Netherlands.

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He was released late last month and reunited with his wife and family in Johannesburg.


He described how he learned some Arabic to communicate and said he watched birds migrate “backwards and forwards” across the vast Sahara.

He was released with Swede Johan Gustafsson, 42, and in their first appearance since freedom, the pair said they were not clear whether any ransom was paid for their release.


A picture of Stephen McGown on his arrival in South Africa on Sunday morning. Photo: eNCA

“I think it’s wrong to pay ransoms,” Mr Gustafsson, who was freed in June, said.

“I hope they let me out because they were tired of me.”

Sweden has insisted it never paid any ransom and that his release was obtained through negotiations.


“I don’t hate my al-Qaeda captors”


Mr Gustafsson and Mr McGown were the longest-held of a number of foreigners seized by Islamic extremists in Mali, where several armed groups roam the country’s north.

The extremists have made a fortune over the last decade abducting foreigners in the vast Sahel region and demanding enormous ransoms for their release.


Mr McGown told reporters in South Africa he did not know whether any ransom was paid for his release in late July. South Africa’s government has said it paid no ransom.

He said he was well-treated during his long years in the desert, but “you always knew you were a prisoner”.

Mr McGown also said he found out about his mother’s death in May just minutes before he arrived home in South Africa.



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