Officials: British boy kidnapped in Pakistan found

JHELUM, Pakistan (AP) — Kidnappers released a 5-year-old British boy unharmed Tuesday almost two weeks after abducting him from his grandparents' house in central Pakistan, British and Pakistani officials said.

A senior provincial official said a ransom was paid for the freedom of Sahil Saeed, who is of Pakistani origin, but he did not identify who abducted the boy and received the money.

Saeed was found in a small village in Punjab province, some 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Jhelum city where armed robbers seized him on March 4, said Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Pakistani authorities have said someone in the family was involved in the abduction — a charge the family denies. One relative also said Tuesday that no ransom was paid.

British High Commissioner Adam Thomson expressed relief the boy had been found and thanked Pakistani authorities for their cooperation in the search.

"This is fantastic news that brings to an end the traumatic ordeal faced by Sahil and his family," Thomson said in a statement.

The boy was examined by a doctor, Hafeezur Rehman, who said he looked "healthy and happy."

"There was no sign of depression on his face," Rehman told The Associated Press. "He was playing with toys at a government rest house when I examined him."

Senior police official Mohammad Aslam Tareen told reporters that the British High Commission now has custody of the boy and has been communicating with his parents.

Malik, the interior minister, did not reveal the identity of the kidnappers but said someone from the family was involved in the abduction, echoing a charge made by several other Pakistani officials.

Malik said the boy's father, Raja Naqqash Saeed, returned to Britain last week against Pakistan's wishes.

The family initially denied he had left the country. But Manchester police said Tuesday that he was indeed in Britain and was cooperating with authorities.

"There's still a very active criminal investigation and Greater Manchester Police and the Pakistani authorities are still determined to bring people to justice," said Assistant Chief Constable David Thompson.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told AP Television News that a ransom had been paid but that the boy's father was not a suspect in the abduction, saying he "is not involved in this."

"An international gang was involved in it, and it was demanding the ransom (be paid) outside Pakistan in a European country," he said.

The boy's father previously said the kidnappers had demanded 100,000 British pounds ($150,000) in ransom, an amount he said the family could not afford.

"In this case, a ransom has been paid. But it is too early to say who arranged this and how," Sanaullah said.

But the boy's grandfather, Raja Mohammed Basharat, told ARY television Tuesday that "according to my information, no ransom has been paid."

The number of kidnappings for ransom has soared in Pakistan, where Taliban-led militancy and a struggling economy have fueled crime. Most victims are Pakistani nationals.