SA paramedic abducted by Al-Qaeda group reunited with family

South African paramedic Gerco van Deventer spent a heartwarming Christmas at home with his family on Monday after a long and arduous journey to freedom.

Van Deventer was reportedly abducted in November 2017 by a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in Libya and was later “sold off” to the Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam Wal Muslim group in Mali in 2018.

His release came as a result of extensive efforts involving various parties including the Gift of the Givers, a humanitarian organisation that played a crucial role in securing his freedom.

According to Gift of the Givers founder, Imtiaz Sooliman, their intervention ended once they had secured Van Deventer’s release.

Sooliman explained: “The captors have told us on all previous occasions that the ‘release’ stage is between them, the intermediaries, the state security of the country to whom the hostage is being handed [Algeria], and the state security of the hostage’s country.

“We do not get involved here and cannot comment further. The feedback on the last part of the journey will come from Gerco and his family.”

State securities praised for their role

Sooliman expressed gratitude to all those who were involved in Van Deventer’s release including multiple intermediaries in Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, and Niger.

He also thanked Algerian and South African state securities for their cooperation and assistance throughout the process.

However, he reserved special praise for Mohamed Yehia Dicko, the Gift of the Givers negotiator, whom he hailed as the “real hero” behind Van Deventer’s release.

He added that Dicko’s unwavering dedication and sacrifices were instrumental in bringing about this outcome.

“He never gave up, went to Mali for weeks at a time sacrificing his family, his personal interest, his time, and himself,” said Sooliman.

“He almost lost his daughter in a freak accident this year whilst he was busy with discussions at a crucial stage of the negotiations in Mali, but he did not just up and leave.

“He entrusted his daughter to the Almighty, completed those discussions then returned to SA. Fortunately his daughter, who was admitted to the ICU [intensive care unit], survived.

“[The] Gift of the Givers took care of his family during that period.”

Wife’s patience lauded

The humanitarian organisation also lauded Shereen, Van Deventer’s wife for her incredible strength and patience throughout “this challenging time”.

Sooliman said Van Deventer’s faith, positivity, calmness and composure were commendable. 

“We are in awe of her faith, positivity, calmness and composure in this entire process.

“We praise the Almighty that Gerco made it home to Shereen and Asher for Christmas and we are immensely relieved that an ordeal of six years and one month is finally over.

“Gerco was the longest-standing South African hostage in captivity. We wish him well as he moves forward in his ‘new’ life.”

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