Page last updated at 21:32 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Sahil Saeed freed after cash paid in Paris, say police


Police in Spain find a suitcase filled with money

A ransom of £110,000 was paid to gain the release of five-year-old Sahil Saeed, who was kidnapped in Pakistan, Spanish police have said.

A phone call made from Spain instructed the Oldham boy's father to travel to Manchester and then Paris, where police saw him pay cash in a public street.

Earlier, Pakistan's interior minister said some money had been paid within Pakistan in a bid to get Sahil freed.

Sahil was seized while visiting family on 3 March and freed 13 days later.

Spanish police said the initial phone call gave the family three days to pay the ransom. Spanish authorities were alerted by Interpol after the call was traced to Spain.

They said police in Paris watched as people took the money handed over by Sahil's father, Raja Saeed, and divided it into a bag and a trolley.

Akila Naqqash and a photograph of her son, Sahil Saeed
Sahil's mother Akila Naqqash spoke to him by phone after he was freed

French police followed them to the border with Spain.

Spanish police officers in Tarragona, Catalonia, arrested two Pakistani men and a Romanian woman in connection with the case after raiding a flat in Constanti, around 60 miles from Barcelona, on Tuesday.

Money totalling £110,000, a computer and some mobile phones, which were used to contact Sahil's father in Pakistan to demand the ransom, were found at the property.

Two of the group had driven to the French capital to collect the ransom payment and were arrested as they returned to Spain.

All three are due to appear in court in Spain on Thursday.

Two people have also been arrested in Paris. The BBC's Madrid correspondent Sarah Rainsford said police reiterated that the investigation was still open.

Spain's chief of police for violent crime, Serafin Castro, told reporters the arrests had been made as part of joint operation by French, Spanish and UK police.

He said the decision to make the arrests was taken after police were informed that Sahil had been freed, at about 0500 GMT.

"We arrested these three people and in the presence of a judicial secretary, we searched the flat."

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the money paid within Pakistan was "seed" money, which was paid to someone within a network with a promise of more money to provide information that would lead to the boy's release.

He said the other option had been to attempt to capture the boy's kidnappers but that could have risked "having the boy killed".

Rehman Malik: "Yes, there was a seed money"

Sahil's return is being organised by the British High Commission in Pakistan.

He was taken when robbers broke into his grandmother's house while he and his father were on holiday visiting relatives in Jhelum, in the Punjab region. Mr Saeed, 28, returned to the UK last week against the wishes of Pakistan's police.

Family members were said to have been beaten by the intruders during a six-hour ordeal, which ended with the robbers looting the house and fleeing with the boy.

On 16 March Sahil was left near a school about 20km (12 miles) from Jhelum before wandering into a field where he was found by locals.

His family said they were "ecstatic" at the news he had been freed and was unharmed.

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

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.

After Sahil was released on Tuesday Assistant Chief Constable Dave Thompson, of Greater Manchester Police, said police did not expect to make imminent arrests in the UK but that there could be arrests in other parts of Europe.

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

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