Stephen McGown Assumed Al-Qaeda Release Was 'Joke'

Swedish hostage Johan Gustafsson'pretended to be Muslim to survive

Captured South African thought al-Qaida release was joke

The 42-year-old was on a motorcycle tour of Africa when he was seized.

Speaking after his release, Stephen McGown said that if he had been British it would have been "first prize".

Mr McGown said it had been "difficult to understand" his sudden release at first in a press conference held by South African aid group Gift of the Givers Foundation, which helped to negotiate a deal with the rebels.

In his first appearance before the media since his release, McGown, still sporting long hair and a beard from his years in captivity, said his captors did not know his nationality when they caught him. "I hope they let me out because they were exhausted of me".

He found out about the death of his mother, who passed away in May, minutes before arriving home in South Africa.

McGown, Dutch national, Sjaak Rijke and Swede, Johan Gustafsson were abducted on 25 November, 2011, from a backpackers in Timbuktu, Mali.

'I did my best to see the best in a bad situation, ' McGown said.

Mr McGown said he did not believe his captors knew his nationality when they caught him but had wanted him to be from the United Kingdom because British captives were more valuable to them.

"I did not want to come out an angry person".

He paid tribute to his mother who died in May, saying she was "an fantastic lady and I can imagine the difficulties she went through".

He believes he was kidnapped "because I just wasn't a Muslim".

Mr Gustafsson said: 'I think it's wrong to pay ransoms.

But Imtiaz Sooliman said the extremists' initial demands started at 10 million euros (£9 million) per captive.

"Before the desert, I was a Christian".

"I think my family were pushing for this, and I was pushing for this. I entered (Islam) of my own accord", he said. He added that he was better treated by his captors after converting.

"I see many good things in Islam".

McGown described being "in the dark" to wider world events while imprisoned, with minimal communication and no English books around him.

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