Gift of the Givers failed to bring my son home: Mom of kidnapped SA photographer

Shiraaz Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria in 2017.
Shiraaz Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria in 2017.

The mother of South African photographer Shiraaz Mohamed, who was kidnapped and held captive in Syria for almost three years, has accused Gift of the Givers of putting his life in danger by sharing details of his escape “prematurely”.

Mohamed reportedly escaped from his captors last week.

In a statement released by the family on Thursday, Mohamed's mother, Shireen, said Gift of the Givers' founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman had not helped the family in its efforts to bring her son back home.

Instead, Shireen said, Sooliman created media hype about Mohamed's escape from captivity and contacted the family only via WhatsApp.

Sooliman issued a media statement at the weekend saying that the organisation had received information that Mohamed was with Turkish authorities after having “escaped” from his captors. Two pictures of Mohamed were circulated with the statement.

In a statement on Thursday, Shireen said: “For two-and-a-half years, we believed and trusted Gift of the Givers to bring my son home after the organisation took him to Syria to cover its winter campaign. We were forced to seek other help because Dr Imtiaz Sooliman failed in his promises to free Shiraaz from his captors and bring him home to me. There was no progress; only media hype.”

She said that for the past seven months, Gift of the Givers had not been involved in negotiations to get Mohamed released — something which Sooliman admitted to in his earlier statement.

“In October 2019, we again appealed to Dr Sooliman for help with information on other organisations or anyone else who could possibly assist us towards meeting our target of US$700,000. He refused.

“In relation to the news regarding my son’s ‘escape’, Dr Sooliman sent a WhatsApp message at 11.33pm on Saturday night,” said Shireen.

She refuted Sooliman's statement in the media that the family was happy that Mohamed had escaped.

“Dr Sooliman spoke about how happy the family was, however he has had no direct contact with me apart from the WhatsApp message.

“On Sunday morning, the family was shocked to hear news reports about Shiraaz’s ‘escape’ from the media based on Gift of the Givers' press statement. We had expressly requested that this information not be shared until we received official confirmation from authorities. We explained to Dr Sooliman that it was premature and may endanger Shiraaz’s life,” she said.

Shireen said Sooliman did not have permission to speak about efforts to get Mohamed to SA.

“As his family, we do not yet fully know what transpired, to be talking about it. I need my son home. I do not want my son home in a body bag because of reckless comments,” she said.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the SABC on Wednesday, Sooliman said Mohamed had not gone to Syria as part of a Gift of the Givers' mission.

“I didn’t know Shiraaz was going to Syria. I don’t even know Shiraaz. I’d never met him,” said Sooliman. “I just got news that he was there. I was wondering why Shiraaz was there and why did he go. People said at the beginning that he was on a Gift of the Givers mission but there was no Gift of the Givers mission. The mission was over a few years before that,” he said.

Sooliman stressed that when his team went on missions to dangerous places like Syria, they seldom allowed the media to go with them.