>> Held captive by al-Qaeda for six years, Stephen McGowan, a British and South African tourist taken while on vacation in Mali, now recalling the ordeal after the Islamist militants released him last month.>> I do not believe that they knew my nationality when they caught me. They obviously would have really preferred me to have been British.
This would have been first prize and it took a long time for the British status to fall away. American, French and British these are the top three. So yeah, they kidnapped me because I was just not Muslim.>> McGowan was taken from a restaurant in Timbuktu while touring on motorcycles with friends, but he was the last to be accounted for.
One of the group, a German was killed in the kidnapping, another from the Netherlands was freed by a French commander raid two years ago. Al Qaeda voluntarily released another from Sweden last June.>> Today is the 23rd of June, 2013.>> This video released by his captors showing proof of life.
Flanked by his wife and father, McGowan says he was housed in a grass hut, handcuffed and blindfolded for long periods of time. Those first panicked few months especially harrowing as he struggled to come to grips. His mother died in his absence, a fact he didn't learn until after his release.
McGowan voluntarily converted to Islam in his captivity. Something that's happened to other hostages in similar situations which he says made his time easier. His Swedish friend, Johan Gustafsson, who spoke in a separate press conference in his home country, says he also converted but it was a calculated move to buy time.
He might keep the beard.>> I will see everybody seems to be growing beards these days, all my friends are growing beards so I maybe I fit in fine with Elizabeth.>> The NGO that operated as a mediator for McGowan's release says it was done on grounds of compassion, and South African governments said it did not pay a ransom.