While riding his motorbike through Mali, on his way home from London to Johannesburg, Steve McGown was taken captive in Timbuktu by Al Qaeda. Life as he knew it, changed in that instant. With nothing to bargain with and everything to lose, for the next six years Steve became reluctantly engaged in what he refers to as, “the greatest chess game of my life.”
Thousands of kilometres away in Johannesburg, the shock of his kidnapping hit his wife Cath and the rest of the McGown family. Working every option they could find, from established diplomatic protocols to the murky back channels of the kidnap game, they set to work on trying to free Steve.
As the months turned into years, Steve would have to go to extraordinary lengths to survive both his prison and his prisoners. His sole focus was to make it back home and to raise his status among Al Qaeda. Steve taught himself French, Arabic, converted to Islam and accepted a new name, Lot.
At the time he held the unenviable record of Al Qaeda’s longest-held prisoner and while the captive-captor dynamic was always there, by virtue of the long years he spent with them Steve got to see what no Westerner had ever seen before.
Six Years With Al Qaeda is not just an incredible story of mental strength, physical endurance and the resilience of the human spirit, but also a unique, nuanced perspective on one of the world’s most feared terrorist organisations. Not only did Steve McGown survive his ordeal, but in many respects he came out of the desert both a changed man and a stronger, more positive human.
Stephen McGown is now a full time speaker who speaks locally and internationally to clients like KPMG, Sanlam, Discovery, Investec, RMB, with planned engagements to the USA, Singapore, Australia, UAE, amongst others. Netflix has already shown interest in filming his story.
If you missed live virtual book launch with Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis in conversation with Stephen and the writer chosen by Stephen to help tell his story, Tudor Caradoc-Davies check it out here: https://youtu.be/sgrExv7-bZk