British boy arrives home after Pakistan kidnap ordeal

MANCHESTER: A five-year-old British boy whose 12-day kidnap ordeal in Pakistan sparked an international police operation that led to arrests in Europe has arrived home.

Sahil Saeed was brought out onto the doorstep of his house in the arms of his mother Akila Naqqash to applause from well-wishers, shortly after his father brought him back from Islamabad on Thursday.

Looking tired, Sahil rubbed his eyes and refused to raise his head from his mother's shoulder to face the waiting media.

A banner reading "Welcome Sahil" hung from windows at the house in Oldham, which was surrounded by steel barriers to keep dozens of reporters and television crews at a distance.

"We are ecstatic, everybody is over the moon... all we have done is non-stop praying. Now the mood's totally changed," said his aunt Naila Wasseem, part of the young boy's extended family who had gathered to celebrate his return.

His father Raja Naqqash Saeed had flown back with the boy from Pakistan hours earlier.

Sahil was smiling and in high spirits as he boarded the flight for the reunion with his mother, who had promised a "big party" on his return.

Before he left, Sahil kicked a football around the lawn of the British High Commissioner's residence in Islamabad and was cuddled by his relieved father, who had flown out earlier in the day to collect him, video footage showed.

The boy's release on Tuesday followed the payment by his uncle of a 110,000-pound ransom in Paris, which has since been largely recovered in a police operation that sparked five arrests.

"I am completely overjoyed that I have been reunited with my son after such a long ordeal," the father said in a statement released by the High Commission.

"Sahil is doing well, is in good spirits and can?t wait to return to the UK to see his mum, his family and join his friends back at school," he added, thanking British and Pakistani authorities for assisting in his son's return.

The father, son and an uncle took off for Manchester aboard Pakistan International Airlines flight 701 at 3:15 pm (1015 GMT), an official said, and arrived in Britain at about 6:30 pm.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking in Oldham, said everyone was "very, very happy that this potentially tragic story is ending in Sahil coming back to our country".

Sahil was snatched at gunpoint from his grandmother's house in the town of Jhelum, about 65 miles south of Islamabad, in the early hours of March 4 at the end of a family holiday.

Pakistani authorities, helped by British officials, launched a hunt for the boy, and 12 days later Sahil was recovered safe and well in a field not far from Jhelum as the focus of the investigation switched to France and Spain.

A Pakistani man and a Romanian woman, both awaiting trial on murder charges, were among five people arrested by police Tuesday.

The couple travelled from the northeastern Spanish town of Constanti, which has a large Pakistani community, to Paris to collect the ransom. They were arrested on their return to Spain.

Another Pakistani man was arrested in Constanti while French police detained two relatives of the man who went to Paris as alleged accomplices. They had put up the couple at their Paris apartment.

The authorities made the arrests once they were informed that Sahil had been recovered in Pakistan and was safe, said the head of the Spanish police's economic and violent crime unit, Commander Serafin Castro.

Police found nearly 104,000 pounds and over 3,000 euros in the couple's flat in Constanti.

Pakistan's ambassador to London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, said the kidnappers are thought to have known Sahil's family, telling Sky News they had "some kind of grudge against them".