Page last updated at 19:45 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Sahil Saeed's mother hails 'amazing' Pakistan release

Akila Naqqash and a photograph of her son, Sahil Saeed
Akila Naqqash said she did not leave her house while her son was missing

The mother of a five-year-old British boy who was kidnapped while in Pakistan has described his release as "amazing".

Sahil Saeed, from Oldham, had been snatched from his grandmother's house in Jhelum by armed robbers on 3 March.

Greater Manchester Police said he had been left near a school at 0410 GMT on Tuesday, before wandering into a field where he was found by locals.

His mother, Akila Naqqash, said she was "gobsmacked" at his calm reaction when they spoke on the phone.

He seemed "normal" during their conversation, she said.

"Obviously [he had] been held for 13 days, and the way he spoke to me like nothing happened - it's normal, the way he spoke and everything. He's going on and on and on about his toys and his sisters and everything - a normal little boy," she said.

FROM THE PM PROGRAMME

Speaking from the family home in Oldham, Greater Manchester, the boy's mother described the moment she found out he had been released.

"It was amazing. At first I thought it was not true," she said.

She also revealed that she had not left her house during the entire time that her son had been missing.

"Obviously you think, who these people are, will he be treated well, how's he coping? Things like that.

"But now it's said he's unharmed, been looked after very well, which is really, really good, the way I wanted it as well.

"That's really reassured me, I'm really glad about that report. I'm just waiting for my little boy to come back - that's all I want now."

Nick Ravenscroft
By Nick Ravenscroft, BBC News
Finally, after 13 anguished days, there was a smile on the face of Sahil's mother, Akila.

She hasn't left the family home in all that time. Instead she's been praying and waiting for the phone to ring.

It's been difficult for them to know how best to respond to Sahil's disappearance, publicly.

To begin with, the desperate sobs of Sahil's mother made the case shoot up the news agenda, putting pressure on the Pakistani authorities to get a result.

But some voices cautioned that such appeals could be counter-productive, jeopardising attempts by negotiators to deal with Sahil's abductors' demands.

It became clear by the second week of his absence that this advice had been heeded by the family. Abruptly, all public statements stopped.

The strain on them has been obvious - not least when a remark by Pakistan's High Commissioner in London suggested that this could be an "inside job", throwing the spotlight onto the family.

Along with the unexpected departure of Sahil's father from Pakistan, this has fuelled speculation. It's for the police to put those rumours to rest now that Sahil is safe.

Police said that Sahil had also spoken by phone to his father.

Earlier, a spokesman for the family said: "The whole family is ecstatic. They are currently taking in the news and want to celebrate as a family."

Punjab police said Sahil was well, playing with toys, smiling and in an "OK state of mind".

Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is on a visit to China, said he was "absolutely delighted" at the child's release.

"I think every parent in Britain will be delighted by the news and we need to get him home as soon as possible," said Mr Miliband, who thanked Pakistani authorities for the role they played.

Asked if a ransom had been paid, the foreign secretary said he had no further information on the case.

Sahil was found 20 miles away from Jhelum, near a village school in the town of Dinga in the Gujrat district, local police said.

Police told a news conference Sahil's family had been phoned with instructions about where to find him.

The BBC spoke to a man who lives close to the school and claims to have been the first to spot Sahil.

"I have tried to talk to him but he was crying. He was missing one shoe. He was speaking English which I don't understand," Shoakat Ali said, talking through an interpreter.

The school's director, Abdul Shakoor, witnessed the moment when Sahil was reunited with an uncle.

"He saw Sahil and he was so glad, weeping, and then he just bore down to the earth and prostrated and thanked Allah that he had seen Sahil," he told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Thompson of Greater Manchester Police said members of Sahil's family were due to fly to Pakistan as soon as possible to bring him back to the UK.

He said: "At this time, I believe he is well, considering the terrible ordeal that he will have been through."

Sahil is now with family in Pakistan and with Pakistani police, ACC Thompson added.

Investigation moving 'quickly'

He also said that while police did not expect to make imminent arrests in the UK, there could be arrests in other parts of Europe and there was a determination to "bring people to justice".

ACC Thompson said "things were moving very quickly" in relation to the investigation and that he was unable to comment on whether a ransom had been paid, because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

BBC Pakistan correspondent Orla Guerin, in Jhelum, said while there were still many unanswered questions, police kept repeating there was no evidence of involvement by anyone in Sahil's family.

She said the local police chief had said he was searching for "a gang of five" and would be able to give more details once an arrest had been made.

Our correspondent understands Sahil is on his way to Islamabad. He will remain in the care of British officials until he is reunited with his father, Raja Saeed, who is due to travel to Pakistan as early as Wednesday, she added.

The boy had been visiting relatives with his father, who returned to the UK last week, against the wishes of Pakistan's police.

Sahil Saeed's mother, Akila Naqqash: "It was my little boy"

The British High Commissioner in Islamabad, Adam Thompson, said Sahil's release was "fantastic news" and praised the co-operation between UK and Pakistani authorities.

Sahil was taken when robbers broke into his grandmother's house. Up to 10 family members inside the house were said to have been beaten by the intruders during a six-hour ordeal.

The robbers then took items believed to be jewellery and money and fled with the boy.

The gang had apparently demanded a £100,000 ransom for the boy's return, but his family had said there was "no way" they could afford any such payment.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says kidnapping is not rare in Pakistan, and even when ransoms are handed over, such cases do not always end happily.

The policy of the Foreign Office is that it does not pay ransoms and it advises others not to do so.

The law minister of Punjab province, Rana Sanaullah, was asked on ARY TV on Tuesday whether Sahil's father had paid a ransom to secure his child's release.

British High Commissioner Adam Thomson: "A good close collaboration"

He said the money had been paid "not in Britain, but in another country".

Jane Sheridan, head teacher at Rushcroft Primary School, said Sahil's return was "eagerly" awaited since he "has been missed by his friends and teachers".

Last week, relatives of the boy spoke of their anguish after false reports that he had been found and handed over to his father.

His uncle, Raja Khalid Bashir, said at the time that it was "like losing him a second time".

After Sahil was taken, several men - including a taxi driver - were arrested.

Four police officers have been suspended for not initially responding to the family's emergency call.

But our correspondent says it is now clear that the police do not have any suspects in custody.



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