KABUL: An infant boy handed in desperation to a soldier across an airport wall in the chaos of the American evacuation of Afghanistan has been found and was reunited with his relatives in Kabul.
The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was just two months old when he went missing on August 19 as thousands of people rushed to leave Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban. According to reports, the baby was located in Kabul where a taxi driver, Hamid Safi, had found him in the airport and took him home to raise as his own.
After more than seven weeks of negotiations and pleas, and ultimately a brief detention by Taliban police, Safi finally handed the child back to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives still in Kabul. They said they would now seek to have him reunited with his parents and siblings who were evacuated months ago to the United States.
During the tumultuous Afghan evacuation, Mirza Ali Ahmadi – the boy’s father who had worked as a security guard at the US embassy – and his wife Suraya feared their son would get crushed in the crowd as they neared the airport gates en route to a flight to the United States.
Ahmadi said in early November in his desperation that day, he handed Sohail over the airport wall to a uniformed soldier who he believed to be an American, fully expecting he would soon make it the remaining 5 meters to the entrance to reclaim him.
Just at that moment, Taliban forces pushed the crowd back and it would be another half an hour before Ahmadi, his wife and their four other children were able to get inside. But by then the baby was nowhere to be found.
Ahmadi said he searched desperately for his son inside the airport and was told by officials that he had likely been taken out of the country separately and could be reunited with them later. The rest of the family was evacuated – eventually ending up at a military base in Texas. For months they had no idea where their son was.
On the same day Ahmadi and his family were separated from their baby, Safi had slipped through the Kabul airport gates after giving a ride to his brother’s family who were also set to evacuate.
Safi said he found Sohail alone and crying on the ground. After he unsuccessfully tried to locate the baby’s parents inside, he decided to take the infant home to his wife and children. Safi has three daughters of his own and said his mother’s greatest wish before she died was for him to have a son.
In that moment he decided: “I am keeping this baby. If his family is found, I will give him to them. If not, I will raise him myself,” he said in an interview in late November.
Safi said that he took him to the doctor for a check-up after he was found and quickly incorporated the child into his family. They called the baby Mohammad Abed and posted pictures of all the children together on his Facebook page.
After a news report story about the missing child came out, some of Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed his return from the airport months earlier with a baby – recognised the photos and posted comments about his whereabouts on a translated version of the article.
Ahmadi asked his relatives still in Afghanistan, including his father-in-law Mohammad Qasem Razawi to seek out Safi and ask him to return Sohail to the family. Razawi said he traveled two days and two nights to the capital bearing gifts for Safi and his family. Safi refused to release Sohail, insisting he also wanted to be evacuated from Afghanistan with his family.
Finally Razawi contacted the local Taliban police to report a kidnapping. Safi denied the allegations to the police and said he was caring for the baby, not kidnapping him. The complaint was investigated and dismissed and the local police commander helped arrange a settlement, which included an agreement signed with thumbprints by both sides.
Razawi said the baby’s family agreed to compensate Safi around 100,000 Afghani for expenses incurred looking after him for five months. In the presence of the police, and amid lots of tears, the baby was finally returned to his relatives.
The baby’s parents said they were overjoyed as they were able to see with their own eyes the reunion over video chat. “There are celebrations, dance, singing,” said Razawi. “It is just like a wedding indeed.”
Ahmadi and his wife and other children, who in early December were able to move off the military base and resettle in an apartment in Michigan, hope Sohail will soon be brought to the United States. “We need to get the baby back to his mother and father. This is my only responsibility,” his grandfather said. “My wish is that he should return to them.”