ADELAIDE, Australia – An Australian farmer held hostage in Mali for 12 days by a gang of men who had posed as an online love interest has urged others to be careful when seeking romance on the Internet.
Des Gregor, 56, traveled to the West African nation last month to meet his supposed bride, whom he had met on the Internet, and collect a dowry of gold bars worth $85,000.
But when he arrived, the wheat and sheep farmer was abducted by a gang of armed bandits who bound him, beat him with a machete and stole his cash and credit cards.
Gregor, who returned to his home state of South Australia with a police escort late Sunday, said the men told him they would hack his limbs off with a machete unless he paid them a $85,000 ransom.
The scam was stopped when Australian and Malian police, alerted by Gregor's family in Australia, tricked the kidnappers into taking Gregor to the Canadian Embassy to collect the ransom money.
Australian Federal Police said in a statement that Gregor's case was an "extreme example" of what can happen to people who succumb to Internet scams, and warned Australians to protect themselves.
Speaking to reporters, Gregor said he was met at the airport in Mali by a well-dressed man and had no indication that anything was amiss until he was led into a room where two men with a machete and a homemade pistol began demanding money.
"It's hard to explain what I thought," he said. "I basically was wondering what the hell was going on and then they started demanding money — then I knew things were serious."
Gregor said he had learned his lesson and urged others to be careful when looking for love online.
"I reckon another couple of days and I wouldn't have returned," he said. "Just be careful — make sure you check everything out 100 percent."