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Friday 15 December 2017

Mystery of missing boy Sahil deepens as dad who reported kidnap defies cops to fly home

At first it seemed like a simple case of abduction: a five-year-old boy snatched by masked gunmen in Pakistan on the last day of a two-week holiday with his father.

A £100,000 (€110,00) ransom demand for his safe return had been issued and, as the boy's father and police frantically searched the Punjab, a distraught mother made a desperate appeal from England to be reunited with her child.

But since Sahil Saeed was bundled from his grandmother's house in Jhelum on March 4, the story has become more complicated by the day.

First there were reports that the five-year-old had been found safe and well in Sialkot, a bustling city at the foot of the Himalayas some 50 miles east of Jhelum. But they were false. A kidnapped boy had indeed been found, but it was not Sahil.

Then there was the equally mysterious whereabouts of Sahil's dad, Raja Naqqash Saeed.



INCONSOLABLE

Rumours had been circulating that the Pakistani national had returned to Britain, against the wishes of the Punjab police who wanted him to remain.

For most of yesterday Pakistani officials, including the High Commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hassan, insisted that Mr Saeed was still in the Punjab in "protective custody".

But they finally confirmed he had taken a flight back to Manchester. It is believed he did not inform police of his intention to fly to Britain.

"He went via PIA [Pakistan International Airways]," Mr Hassan said. "How could a father leave his child like that when he's still missing?"

Sahil's relatives in Oldham in northern England, meanwhile, a large close-knit family who have kept a vigil around the boy's inconsolable mother Akil, say they have not heard from Mr Saeed in days.

Mr Saeed's return is another mysterious footnote to a case in which discrepancies have been exposed. Many local observers said it was odd that within a conservative Pakistani family a five-year-old would travel abroad without his mother.

It was also bizarre, they added, that the mother had remained in Britain throughout the ordeal. And if the father really had decided to leave Pakistan while his son is missing, that would be even stranger.

Hard facts are difficult to come by, so what do we know?

What is not disputed is that in the early hours of March 4, Sahil Saeed went missing.

The kidnappers are said to have arrived late at night, just moments before Mr Saeed and his son were to head to Islamabad airport and return to Britain. Sahil had told his mum that he wanted jacket potatoes when he got home because he was bored of chapattis.



torture

But he never made it home. Instead the gates of the Jhelum compound were opened to allow a taxi to drive in. Accompanying the vehicle was a gang armed with guns and grenades.

Mr Saeed said that he was then "tortured" for several hours before the kidnappers snatched the child and demanded £100,000 in ransom.

The motives of the kidnappers are unclear. One theory is that the family was targeted because of their connections to Britain, where even the poorest families are considered to be rich by Pakistani standards.

But a queue of senior Pakistani ministers and diplomats have also put forward the theory that members of the broader family may have been involved. Mr Saeed last week bristled at the suggestions.

"My family, my wife, everyone is with me," he said. "I am getting too much support from my in-laws." The search for Sahil, meanwhile, goes on.

hnews@herald.ie

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