An Emirati businessman held to ransom by a Nigerian kidnap gang made a tearful homecoming last night, into the arms of an emotional family who never lost faith that he would survive his ordeal.
Mohammed Khamis Majed, 29, was abducted by the armed gang on January 21 after he flew into Nigeria the day before for a short business trip to close a deal for his building-maintenance company.
Held captive for 50 days, he used his training as a Special Forces officer and ate insects to stay alive.
Mohammed was rescued in an operation led by the Ministry of Interior, which refused to give in to the kidnappers' demand for a US$5 million (Dh18.3m) ransom, and flew home last night by private plane.
"I waited two months while counting the hours, and counting the minutes, and seconds, to hear news that would put an end to the fire burning in me for my love, and comfort my fears for my young son," his mother said as she wept tears of joy.
Umm Mohammed said the phone call she received from Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, to tell her that her son was safe "removed a mountain" of sadness from her - especially to hear that her son would be home by Mother's Day.
Despite having lost contact with Mohammed in Nigeria, the family had gone to the airport on the day he was due to return, Umm Mohammed said. When he failed to arrive, their fears were confirmed - it was the beginning of a nightmare, not just for Mohammed, but for his distraught family in Umm Al Quwain.
Nothing had seemed out of the ordinary when Mohammed arrived in Lagos to finalise his business deal. "I'm with the group to sign the deal. Tell mother everything is fine," he said in a message to his brother, Majed Khamis Majed, 30.
A couple of days later, Majed began to suspect something was wrong. He received a phone call from the courier company DHL to say a package had arrived for him from Nigeria. His suspicions were heightened as repeated attempts to contact Mohammed in Lagos failed.
Majed took a day off from work at Abu Dhabi public prosecution, drove to Sharjah and collected the package. He dreaded what he might find inside. "I was afraid to open it alone, I felt something was wrong," he said yesterday.
Deeply worried, Majed took the package straight to Umm Al Quwain police.
Inside were three letters, one of which Mohammed had been forced to write, telling his brother that he had been kidnapped. The other two letters were also written in Arabic, but not by Mohammed.
Chillingly, one of them read: "Majed, if you tell the police, we will kill him, cut him into pieces and bury him in Nigeria in a place that you will never find."
Another letter said that the kidnappers would contact Majed again to arrange payment of the $5m ransom.
In Nigeria, meanwhile, Mohammed was being kept in a dark, underground bunker where he was fed crumbs of dry bread and a trickle of water. He often had to do without either for stretches of 12 hours and more.
"He would put the bread into the water to make it softer so he could eat it," said Majed.
His brother was so hungry that he had to eat any insects he could find just to stay alive - a product of his military survival training.
The kidnap gang allowed Mohammed to record two voice messages to his family on the 40th day of his kidnapping. "Assalamu alaykum, my brother. Inshallah I will once again be among you. My faith in Allah is strong," he told them.
And in a display of courage that gave his family strength, Mohammed's twice told them: "No one dies before their time."
On the orders of Sheikh Khalifa, the President, a meticulously planned rescue operation was already under way by three special units - one in Abu Dhabi, one in Umm Al Quwain and one in Nigeria.
The rescue units, coordinated by the ministry's Preventive Security and Federal Investigation department, tracked down the gang's boss in Nigeria. His arrest - along with the arrest of other gang members in Nigeria and the UAE - gave investigators vital information on the rest of the gang's whereabouts.
The units, with the help of Nigerian police, pounced on the armed captors and ended Mohammed's ordeal.
Majed extended his appreciation and thanks yesterday to Sheikh Khalifa, Sheikh Saif and other senior government figures for rescuing his brother, and expressed pride in the success of the operation, pointing out that similar hostage rescue attempts by other countries' special forces had failed.
Before flying home Mohammed was admitted to hospital in Nigeria, suffering from exhaustion. "He got tired and the flight was rescheduled," said Majed.
He said Mohammed's mother, five sisters, wife and son Hamdan, 3, along with many other relatives and friends, had put their faith in God's will during the daring rescue mission, but had always been confident in the UAE's ability to get him back safely.