Clinging to his mother's shoulder and rubbing his eyes, a very tired Sahil Saeed was back at his home last night, safe and well after his kidnap ordeal. The five-year-old was brought out by his parents for the briefest of photo calls in which he sleepily endured a blaze of flashlights and shouted questions from reporters.
All day the terraced house in Oldham, Greater Manchester, had filled with a steady stream of friends and relatives bringing sweets and gifts. All were eager to be there when the youngster arrived.
As he was carried in, draped in his father's overcoat, there were gasps and cheers from inside. Banners and balloons had been hung out to greet him. The mood inside was said to be "quiet but very happy".
Sahil's aunt, Naila Wasseem, said: "We are ecstatic. For 13 days, all we have done is non-stop praying. Now the mood's totally changed. I think today is going to be low-key, maybe the next few days we will have a party."
Earlier the cameras had been on hand to capture the moment his plane touched down at Manchester airport shortly before 7pm. From there he was whisked away in a police convoy to be reunited with his mother, Akila Naqqash.
Relatives said yesterday they had been advised to keep celebrations as sensitive as possible to help the boy readjust to his normal life. Sahil's great-uncle Mushtak Raja said everyone was excited but conscious of what he had been through. "It is important we keep things low profile. That little boy doesn't know what has gone on and we have to make sure he avoids the news. He was very happy seeing his father and enjoyed playing football with him this morning," he said. Susan Winn, a neighbour, said everyone in the street was delighted. "Akila is over the moon – we all are."
Sahil travelled home business class with his father and uncle on a Pakistan International Airlines flight from Islamabad. The three were chauffeur-driven through the streets of the Pakistan capital in a diplomatic car and taken straight on to the runway to board the plane.
Mr Saeed flew into Islamabad early yesterday, where he was reunited with his son at the home of the British High Commissioner. The pair were filmed playing football on the lawn of the residence and Sahil, prompted by his father, said: "Mummy, I miss you. Mummy, I love you." He had earlier spoken on the phone to his mother, who has spent the last two weeks watching events unfold from the family home with the couple's two daughters, aged four and 21 months.
In a statement Mr Saeed applauded the international operation to rescue his son. "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. I would like to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of the Pakistani and UK authorities that resulted in the safe return of Sahil to us. I would also like to thank everyone for their messages of support that my family and I have received over the last two weeks."
Gordon Brown, on a visit to a new cancer treatment unit in Sahil's home town, welcomed the boy's return. "People, of course, are very, very happy that this potentially tragic story is ending in Sahil coming back to our country today," he said. "We will be offering our good wishes to the family."