Search continues for Shiraaz Mohamed, missing for three weeks

Syrian children protest for the release of Shiraaz Mohamed. Photo credit: Imtiaz Sooliman/Gift of the Givers

It’s been almost a month since Johannesburg-based photojournalist, Shiraaz Mohamed disappeared while traveling with aid group Gift of the Givers in Syria. According to the group, Mohamed had been kidnapped on January 10 on his way to the Turkish border.

But a series of contradictory statements from Gift of the Givers have set off a trail of confusion.

First, the aid group said they knew where he was. Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, said on January 23 that this organisation had an idea of where Mohamed was but that the information was classified.

On Friday, aid group released a statement that suggested they were still searching for him.

“[Our task team] has engaged many role players seeking clarification and assistance in finding Shiraaz.”

In the past 48 hours, all kinds of people from all types of groups bearing a range of titles including NGO director, medical director, security representative, investigation representative, have either visited Gift of the Givers Ar Rahma Hospital or engaged us in various locations. The message is the same – “there was no reason for anyone to take Shiraaz,” the statement said.

Second, the fact that no group had claimed responsibility neither have any demands have been made has also cast doubts over the assertion that he had been kidnapped. Thirteen days after Mohamed disappearance, Sooliman said it was normal that no ransom note would have been issued yet. But almost a month later, there is still no word, no clarity over where he is.

“We can’t call it an abduction if there is no ransom note,” community activist, Yusuf Abramjee told The Daily Vox. Abramjee said on Saturday that though he had faith in Gift of the Givers, the aid group had left many questions unanswered.

In response, chairman of Gift of the Givers, Imtiaz Sooliman said their statements were not contradictory. “While negotiations are going on, we need to send our teams on the ground to look for Shiraaz. We cannot sit back and wait in a situation like this, we have to move fast,” he said.

He said that it was obvious that Abramjee did not know how a hostage situation worked. “We cannot explain everything that is going on, there is stuff going on in the background. This is our fifth hostage situation and we cannot give every detail because it could be detrimental to the hostage,” he said.

Mohamed’s partner, Shirley Brijlal said she had become “angry and frustrated with the people who had taken Mohamed.”

When asked about the contradictory statements made by Gift of the Givers she said, “We can’t jeopardise any efforts to locate Shiraaz by criticising the people trying to locate him.”

According to the aid organisation, Mohamed had approached the organisation to facilitate his entry into Syria, to take photographs. He disappeared on January 10.

Mohamed had texted his family a day before his capture saying that there was a possibility that he would be detained before leaving Syria. His text said that he was confident the South African government and the Gift of the Givers would have him released.

Additional reporting by Rumana Akoob

Featured image via Gift of the Givers