x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Father reunited with British boy kidnapped in Pakistan

Police efforts across four countries yield five arrests so far after family paid £105,000 ransom.

Sahil Saeed, five, who was kidnapped on March 3 while on holiday in Pakistan, with his father Raja Naqqash at the British High Commission in Islamabad yesterday.
Sahil Saeed, five, who was kidnapped on March 3 while on holiday in Pakistan, with his father Raja Naqqash at the British High Commission in Islamabad yesterday.

LONDON // The two-week kidnap ordeal in Pakistan of a five-year-old British boy ended in his father's arms in Islamabad yesterday. Last night, Sahil Saeed and his father were returning to their home in Oldham, in north-west England, for "a big kiss and cuddles" with Akila Naqqash, the boy's mother, and his two younger sisters.

Meanwhile, in Spain, two Pakistani men and a Romanian woman appeared in court after being arrested in an apartment in Constanti, about 100km from Barcelona, where police recovered about £105,000 (Dh589,000) in cash, almost all the money Mr Saeed had paid to free his son. Two people were also arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where Mr Saeed had actually handed over the ransom. Unbeknown to the kidnappers' agents, their every move was being tracked by the police.

A continent away in Pakistan, authorities were continuing their search for the gang of armed robbers who, on the night of March 3-4, forced their way into the home of Sahil's grandmother in Jhelum, in the Punjab, where the boy and his father were coming to the end of a holiday with relatives. After a six-hour ordeal the gang, armed with Kalashnikovs and grenades, drove off into the night with Sahil. He was not seen again until Tuesday when, after the ransom had been paid, he was found wandering in a field in Dinga, about 20km from his grandmother's home.

Yesterday, in emotional scenes at the British High Commission in Islamabad, father and son were reunited, before heading to the airport to fly back to Britain, where Sahil's favourite meal - a jacket potato and beans - was awaiting him. "Everyone was in very good spirits and, of course, delighted about his return," said a commission spokesman. "Sahil was playing football with his father in the garden and seemed really happy."

Mr Saeed, 28, had criss-crossed continents in a bid to secure his son's safe return. Initially, he had pleaded with the kidnappers to use himself as a hostage, rather than his son. Then, four days after the kidnapping, he abruptly left Pakistan, even though local police had opposed his leaving the country. It has now emerged that his abrupt departure was prompted by a phone call from the kidnappers, telling him that they wanted £110,000 ransom handed over on a street in Paris.

Mr Saeed returned to Oldham and, with the help of relatives and by selling off jewellery and family heirlooms, got together the cash in used notes. With Interpol already alerted, he then flew to Paris and made the drop as police mounted a covert surveillance operation. Two of the people arrested in Constanti have been charged with taking the money from France to Spain by car. But no action was taken until it was confirmed that Sahil had been freed. That news came in a phone call from the kidnappers in Pakistan on Tuesday and Sahil was found at the home of a villager who had taken him in after finding him wandering near a school.

He was examined by medical staff and, apart from the fact his head had been shaved, found to be unharmed. Soon afterwards, he was reunited with his grandmother and other members of his Pakistani family. Then he was taken to Islamabad where he phoned his mother. "I was gobsmacked when I spoke to him," said Mrs Naqqash, 31. "He had been held for 13 long days but he spoke to me like nothing had happened.

"He was going on and on like any other little boy would. He kept asking how his younger sisters were, how his uncle and his auntie were. "He said: 'Mummy, are my toys safe? I am going to bring everyone presents, I am going to buy them presents for when I come home'. "I was just so happy to hear his voice, to know that was my little boy and he was safe." In Spain, Mohamed Zaeb Salem, 29, and Monica Nejunda, 33, appeared in court charged with driving to Paris to pick up the ransom money. A third, unnamed man living at the apartment, was accused of assisting them and of being an illegal immigrant. Local press reports said Mr Salem and Ms Nejunda were on bail at the time of their arrest over their alleged involvement in a fatal stabbing in Tortosa, near Tarragona, in 2008.

Serafin Castro, the Madrid police chief whose specialist force made the arrests, said the gang that took Sahil had initially planned only to rob the family and had kidnapped the boy as an afterthought. He said the ransom was handed over after a series of phone calls demanding money for the boy's release were made from Barcelona. Mobile phones from which some of the calls were made were recovered from the Constanti apartment.

"It seems to have been a textbook operation involving the police forces of several nations," said a police source in London yesterday. "The icing of the cake would be the arrest of those still at large in Pakistan but the main thing is that Sahil is back safe and sound where he belongs - with his family." @Email:dsapsted@thenational.ae