Sorry for the delay on this article, guys. I was going to walk you through the groups operating in the area. Then I see that my fellow SOFREP writer Derek Gannon did a great job explaining the main groups involved in this article, so I decided it was best to have a rethink and take you down a different route. I have decided to share my thoughts on those who have been taken in kidnappings in this region, and consider who might be holding them. Let’s begin.

Stephen McGown and Johan Gustafsson kidnapped in November 2011 in northern Mali

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Gustafsson and McGown plus two other men, Dutch national Sjaak Rijke and a German man, were believed to be kidnapped by al-Qaeda in November 2011 at a restaurant in Timbuktu, Mali. The German man was killed when he refused to get into the truck. Rijke was rescued by French special forces in April 2015.

That’s the summary in short: Gustafsson and McGown were riding their endurance bikes from the U.K. to South Africa. McGown was due to start a new life in South Africa with his wife, but sadly was kidnapped en route while in Mali. Although the reports said AQIM was responsible, I think those truly responsible for the initial attack belonged to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). AQIM presence, in my eyes, had not stretched far enough into Mali at the time of the attack. It was not until a few months later that AQIM took ground and used the MNLA as a force multiplier. But prior to this, I have no doubt AQIM supplied guns and even training to the MNLA. So to say thank you to their new friends, a local MNLA group kidnapped the foreigners, most likely for money and to score brownie points with their new brothers in arms. (This, of course, is just my theory on this subject.)

Going forward from the attack, AQIM piped up, saying it was responsible for the attack and were holding the men. This was confirmed on several different news channels and local radio stations, and they have since sent out several proof-of-life videos.

If we look at the videos and pictures of the two men, you will see that they are now sporting long beards, while their top lips are shaven down. This points to a group with a closer, more spiritual tie to Islam. You may also notice that the men are wearing local clothing, which makes them harder to notice in public. I do believe they will be moved around. The men seem to be in good health—I mean really good! Five years in captivity and their condition is surprising. This really says a lot for their captures. I have no doubt in my mind that AQIM has Gustafsson and McGown. There is a company, Gift of the Givers, trying to secure their release, and the company has confirmed it is in talks with AQIM about their release. My only fear is that the men have been in captivity for so long, AQIM will want some money back for looking after the men. After all, food, water, and general healthcare out there can’t be cheap.

Romanian Iulian Ghergut kidnapped on April 4th, 2015 in Tambao, Burkina Faso

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Ghergut was kidnapped while working for Pan African Minerals, a subsidiary of Frank Timis Corporation. He was working as a security officer on the Tambao project, a manganese mine close to the Mali border. The attack itself was a bloody one: While out on a patrol, Ghergut was in a vehicle along with a police officer and his driver. When they came under small-arms fire, the police officer and driver were seriously wounded. The attackers made off with the Romanian citizen and headed at breakneck pace toward the Mali border. Now this time, there is more to it than meets the eye. In late February, locals staged a protest outside the mine, accusing it of “not living up to its promises.”

The company had promised locals they would build a road and railway linking the towns of Tambao and Kaya more than 125 miles away. Sadly, this road and railway have not yet come to light. Meanwhile, the government suspended the company’s export permit.