Waiting, praying and crying: a father's vigil for kidnapped Sahil

Official says snatching of child may have a family connection
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The Independent Online

It is not hard to find the home from which five-year-old Sahil Saeed was snatched. On the edge of the colonial-era Grand Trunk Road, a fruit vendor gestures wearily to a narrow and winding street behind him.

"It's near the end, just ask anyone."

Inside the courtyard, some 50 men are crouched on red chairs awaiting news in the search for the boy and the gang that seized him from his grandmother's home in Jhelum, in Pakistan's Punjab region. He had been in the country for a two-week holiday with his father, and had been due to return to his home in Oldham on the day that he was snatched. With sombre expressions, the men fiddle with worry beads, stroke their beards, glance at the gate, or look up into the clear blue sky with hope.

A man drags in a reluctant black goat for Raja Naqqash Saeed, Sahil's father, to brush his hand over and bless, before it is slaughtered in a religious sacrifice and the meat donated to the poor.

Young, tall and lean, he stands apart from the paunchy older men who rise to console him. Mr Saeed's eyes reveal a man who has wept for hours and slept little since he last saw his son.

Mr Saeed has said that four men with guns and hand grenades attacked him and other relatives at the house yesterday, beating, kicking and slapping them during an ordeal that lasted for six hours. Sources said that the kidnapping had been "highly professional".

The attackers fled with the boy, along with household possessions, and told Mr Saeed that they wanted £100,000 for his return.

Every few seconds, Mr Saeed anxiously checks his pink mobile phone. He will not say if the kidnappers have called back. But the police, who say they are scouring the nearby area for suspects, have yet to produce the good news they promised.

"We're conducting raids and pursuing suspects," said police officer Shahbaz Ahmed Hinjra. "We've expanded from three search teams to four."

Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's High Commissioner to London, told The Independent that the Punjab police have arrested some people, including the taxi driver who dropped them at the house. Through his interrogation, they have picked up at least eight others.

But it is difficult to tell whether the Punjab police are any closer to finding the kidnappers. Given the high-profile nature of the case, police are likely to be taking a back seat as Pakistan's leading spy agency leads inquiries. A senior government official said ransom calls were coming from foreign numbers, including one from Denmark. Jhelum, once the site of Alexander the Great's battle with the local King Porus, is now heavily concentrated with British-Pakistanis.

"Some of the local villages are filled with them," says Abdul Mateen, a local police officer. "Many of their second homes are here, sometimes with elderly people staying, or just empty."

The pound's cresting value against the rupee has seen ostentatious second homes spring up across the neighbourhood, with loud, gaudy designs, Greek columns, gilt-edged roofs and shimmering mirror tiles.

The senior government official believes that this may have been the motive. Scenting foreign wealth, members of the wider family or others in the area may have been involved.

"This happens in these areas all the time," he says. "When you come from the UK, they think you've got a lot of money with you. Racketeers and gangsters get tipped off."

Punjab province is troubled by family and more broadly, clan disputes, that have escalated into kidnappings and murders. There was no obvious political motive behind the boy's kidnap. In 2008 alone, 51 kidnappings were recorded in Jhelum. But on closer inspection, says the police official, there are only a handful of "genuine cases".

"In all the rest, a girl eloped and the family knew this was the case, but still registered a kidnapping."

The boy's mother made an emotional televised appeal from her home in Oldham on Thursday.

"I just want my son back safe," Akila Naqqash said. "We have got no idea why we were targeted – we don't have any money."