Swede freed by al-Qaeda talks about his ordeal

5:44 min

A Swede held in the Sahara desert by al-Qaeda for nearly six years has described the horrifying moment when he was seized at his hotel in Timbuktu, Mali, in an upcoming Swedish Radio documentary.

“When I opened the door, there was an armed man standing there pointing his Kaleshnikov straight in my face,” Johan Gustafsson says.

“The first thing I saw was just the barrel in front of my face, just tens of centimetres from my head. Then I looked into his eyes, which looked gigantic framed by the turban he had tied around his face.”

The documentary will be broadcast today to coincide with Gustafsson’s first press conference since his release.

In it, he describes how he was moved around the desert on a weekly basis, a failed attempt to flee, how he was forced to collaborate in making video films, and his decision to pretend to convert to Islam to try to prolong his life.

“‘If I become a Muslim, perhaps they will release me’,” I thought. “How much patience do will they have in the end. By doing that, I’ll buy myself some more time.”

Gustafsson said he tried to escape in 2013, managing to evade capture for about 48 hours before his kidnappers found him.

He was released in June this year, after having been kidnapped for 2039 days.

Gustafsson was kidnapped in November 2011 in the middle of a motorcycle trip between Stockholm and South Africa.

Terrorists seized him, Sjaak Rijke from the Netherlands, and Stephen McGown from South Africa, during a raid on a restaurant in the historic tourist town of Timbuktu.

A German man was killed in the attack.