Swede freed in Mali denounces ransom payments

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Swede freed in Mali denounces ransom payments

Stockholm (AFP) - A Swede who was held hostage by Al-Qaeda in Mali for more than five years before being freed in June said Thursday he was opposed to ransoms being paid in kidnapping cases.

Johan Gustafsson, 42, told reporters he did not know why his captors had chosen to release him but he hoped his government was telling the truth when it said its policy was not to pay ransoms.

"Personally, I think it's wrong. It puts other people in danger... It's so much money that ... has a tremendous effect. They can use that money in their war machinery," Gustafsson said of jihadists, in his first press conference since returning to Sweden on June 26.

Gustafsson was abducted by Al-Qaeda's North African affiliate Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Timbuktu, northern Mali, in November 2011 along with South African national Stephen McGown and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke.

Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces, and McGown was released on July 29 this year.

AQIM was one of several jihadist groups that took control of Mali's north in 2012 before being ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

The group had released several videos of the hostages over the years, but little was known about the kidnappers' demands.

Few details have emerged about how Gustafsson's release was secured. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said it was the result of "several years of efforts" by police, politicians, diplomats and Swedish and international authorities.

Gustafsson said he did not know of any negotiations but had been driven out of the desert by his captors before being handed over to "teary-eyed" Swedish police, who then escorted him home.