JOHANNESBURG — The Latest on the first public appearances by two men freed by extremists after years of captivity in Mali (all times local):

4:40 p.m.

A South African recently freed from al-Qaida captivity after nearly six years in northern Mali has made his first public appearance.

The 42-year-old Stephen McGown was the longest-held of a number of foreigners seized by Islamic extremists in Mali, where several armed groups roam the West African country’s north.

McGown says he doesn’t know whether any ransom was paid for his release in late July. He says he was well-treated during his long years in the desert, but “you always knew you were a prisoner.”

McGown says he found out about his mother’s death just minutes before he arrived home in South Africa. His mother died in May.


12:30 p.m.

A Swedish man kidnapped by Islamic extremists in northern Mali nearly six years ago and released in June says he converted to Islam “to save my life.”

The 42-year-old Johan Gustafsson made his first public appearance Thursday. He told reporters that fleeing his captors had been “out of the question.”

He had been on a motorcycle tour in Africa when he was seized. A South African also freed in recent days is expected to speak later Thursday.

Sweden insists it never paid any ransom and Gustafsson’s release was obtained through negotiations.

Gustafsson says he doesn’t know what led to his freedom and says he thinks it’s wrong to pay ransoms.

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

Author photo
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.