Five arrested over kidnap of British boy Sahil Saeed in Pakistan

Suspects detained in Spain, France and Pakistan after ransom is handed over
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The Independent Online

Five people have been arrested in connection with the kidnap of the five-year-old British boy Sahil Saeed after a "substantial" ransom was handed over for his return.

Spanish police confirmed that they raided a flat in Constanti, around 60 miles from Barcelona, where they arrested a Pakistani man aged 29 and his 33-year-old Romanian girlfriend on Tuesday morning after being informed that Sahil had been found safe in Pakistan. Another Pakistani man who lived with the couple and is believed to be the first man's brother was also detained. All three are due to appear in court in Spain tomorrow.

A further two suspects, who are accused of helping the kidnappers and are said to be relatives of the people arrested in Spain, were arrested in Paris, where the ransom was handed over. Pictures released by Spanish police show a large amount of money, thought to constitute the bulk of the ransom paid by the boy's family, being recovered from the flat.

The Spanish authorities were apparently alerted by Interpol after a phone call making a ransom demand was traced to Spain. The call instructed Raja Naqqash Saeed, Sahil's father, to travel from Pakistan to Manchester and then to Paris, where police say they saw him hand over the cash in the street.

Two of those arrested in Spain are thought to work in the regional justice department. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is home to a large Pakistani community and police traced a number of communications during the negotiations to the area.

The arrests came after a joint operation between British, Pakistani and Spanish police following Sahil's release on Tuesday. The Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said they had considered attempting to capture the kidnappers "but what was decided was that life is more important".

Sahil Saeed was seized at gunpoint two weeks ago while on holiday in the Punjab region. One local police chief indicated that the investigation had moved into its "third phase" following the boy's safe return and that detectives were hunting a "gang of five".

The developments took place as it emerged that Sahil's family made frantic attempts more than a week ago to raise money to pay the ransom.

Sources told of visitors to the family home in Queen Street, Oldham, emptying their pockets on to the kitchen table. Some were said to have sold their gold jewellery while others cashed in their savings.

Sahil was found on Tuesday morning, wandering alone and barefoot but unharmed in a field some 20 miles from the town of Jhelum, where he was taken by the gang as he prepared to travel back to the UK.

The Punjabi law minister, Rana Sanaullah, confirmed that money was handed over to secure the release of Sahil. The gang had demanded £110,000, of which £105,000 is reported to have been recovered.

Officials at the British high commission in Islamabad were yesterday putting the finishing touches to plans to return Sahil to the UK. His father has returned to Pakistan to collect his son and has worked closely with British police, who imposed a media blackout in order to protect the boy. The family has denied claims that at least one close relative is involved in the plot. David Thompson, the Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said the investigation remained active in the UK and described it as a "fast-moving international inquiry".

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