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Six Years With Al Qaeda

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

In 2011 while riding his motorbike through Mali, on his way home from London to

Johannesburg, Stephen McGown was kidnapped in Timbuktu by Al Qaeda. He was held

captive for almost six years giving him the unenviable record of Al Qaeda’s longest held

prisoner. In the book Six Years With Al Qaeda – The Stephen McGown Story, Steve’s wife, Cath, also shares her experience during the ordeal. We share an extract from her chapter, exclusive to Mosadi.

Cath McGown
Cath McGown

Extract from Six Years With Al Qaeda – The Stephen McGown Story, Chapter 5: Cath

“All this was new to me. I didn’t know many people who had been kidnapped. I knew of the Chandlers, and little Maddie McCann, of course, but that was a child kidnapping. This was Al Qaeda, a forced to be reckoned with. I had been in London at the time of the bus and tube station blasts in July 2005, but other than that Al Qaeda and the associated Iraq and Afghanistan wars were far removed from my thoughts. I felt safe in London. It was where I met Steve.

The rest of my time in London was rushed. I had to finish packing, among all of the emails and phone calls that I was receiving. I slept on a few more couches, prayed more, cried more. I was blessed to have so many friends who were happy to help me out. By the time I left the UK, the British government officials I was dealing with said that the chances of Al Qaeda calling were slim now that a week had passed.

I remember the first fight Steve and I had after we got engaged. It was New Year’s Eve, our first one together. For me, celebrations are important and should be shared. They were not as important to Steve. I would continue to celebrate his birthday when he was away as well as our wedding anniversaries. That is just the way my family is. I realised that I was going to go back to South Africa and would spend a lot of time with Steve’s parents, who I did not know well at that stage. I had only met them on a few occasions.

A wave of anxiety washed over me as I thought of all the things I needed to do when I got back to South Africa: new accommodation, new ID, new driver’s licence, renew my Speech and Language registration… the list went on. Everything was already set up for me in London. Steve was gone and there was no knowing when he would be back. I had to start again, but on my own.”


Published with permission from Maverick451, the book publishing division of Daily Maverick. Stephen McGown chose writer Tudor Caradoc-Davies to help tell his story.

For more information on the book and to order your copy, click here.



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