A British man kidnapped by Al Qaeda’s North African branch while at a hotel in Timbuktu in Mali has gone online to offer tips to people about how he survived in isolation.
Stephen McGowan, 45, endured almost six years as a captive after he was seized on 25th November 2011 and only released in August 2017.
He has dual British and South African nationality, and at the time the New York Times claimed South African officials had paid 4.2 million USD (3.4 million GBP) for his release.
He had been living for seven years in London where he was a banker in the City when he decided to ride his motorbike through France and Spain and onward across Africa, all the way to South Africa, as an adventure.
He was kidnapped from the patio of his hotel in Timbuktu along with a Swedish and Dutch tourist.
A German with them who tripped while being taken was shot dead.
In an eight-minute video which was filmed in his own back yard, he said he had been receiving messages from people asking for tips on how to cope with life under lockdown. He said some people had told him that social distancing must be a “doddle” for him. He denied having any special talents however, and said simply that it was important to remember lessons can be learned even in the most difficult times.
He was kept in the Sahara with Al-Qaeda’s notorious Sahel branch and said: “I can take you through what worked for me and things I had to focus on to see things clearly and to keep it positive.
“Life is completely out of control all the time. We think we have control. Life can change at any second, so we aren’t really in control. I had this constant fear in my head. One has to cope, one has to pick oneself up. There’s a lot of insecurity, everyone is worried about their jobs and school fees.”
He said the important thing was to find a sense of normality which is what helped him cope and survive.
He said: “I had to focus on survival. I had to understand the problem. I focused on my stresses. Once I could understand what my situation was and what my stresses were, I could tackle them one by one. I would do a lot of introspection.”
Exercise was also vital he said, if nothing else it helps deal with the stress and the constant fear that “your heart is not going to stop”.
He added: “Know what is stressing you. Puff your chest up and tell yourself you are on top of this situation even if you are not, just bluff. Talk yourself into a positive state of mind.
“Look around and appreciate what you have and know there is somebody else who is worse off than you are. In the desert I was alone, at least here we have friends, we have the telephone. We have the internet,” McGowan said.
“It would be an incredible tragedy to not recognise what we have. Focus on your attitude Have objectives and keep a balanced life.”
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