On a chilly night on December 30, 2021, at around 1am, four armed men allegedly barged into a house by cutting a nut of the bathroom door and entered it in Hadali, a small town in Khushab. They took a woman, Umme Fouzia, hostage.
The intruders tied her hands and feet and put tape on her face so she was not able to speak. The robbers stole not only jewellery, cash and mobile phone but also kidnapped her son, four-month-old Mohammad Jameel, the only brother of three sisters.
The gunmen reportedly did it so quickly and so skilfully that in the same house, while there were about a dozen people on the first and second floors, including her elder brother-in-law Rana Khalil, no one got wind of what had happened.
Local police were informed after the crime was committed and they arrived within 20 minutes. Jauharabad SHO Inspector Syed Fawad Ali Shirazi along with his team was the first to reach the spot. Police and forensic experts collected evidence from the crime scene.
Hundreds of people from Hadali live in South Africa for employment and business. Umme Fouzia’s husband Abdul Rehman has been doing business in South Africa for the past 15 years.
Speaking to Bol News, the Jauharabad SHO said when he reached the house where the incident took place, there was chaos as everybody was screaming for the missing child.
“It is difficult to describe those scenes. Those were beyond description,” he recalls.
According to the SHO, it was a matter of great concern for the police team as well as to why such a small child was taken away by armed bandits.
Khushab DPO Mohammad Naveed immediately formed various police teams so that the child could be recovered immediately.
An IT team of police was tracking the woman’s stolen mobile phone to locate the whereabouts of the kidnappers.
Initially, the kidnappers turned Umme Fouzia’s phone on a couple of times and later on they removed the SIM from her phone and inserted it into another phone.
On Dec 31, 2021, Abdul Rehman received a call from an unknown South African number, in South Africa, that his son had been kidnapped and he should arrange Rs100 million as bounty for his child’s safe release.
Abdul Rehman, shocked by the threat, called back home to verify the caller’s claim when he got to know that the threat was not a bluff. When the victim family informed the police about the call the victim’s father had received in South Africa, Khushab DPO Mohammad Naveed immediately informed Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Rao Sardar Ali Khan. On the instruction of the IGP, the Intelligence Bureau, the country’s civilian intelligence agency, was made part of a joint team to solve the case.
On the other hand, senior police officials contacted South African police officials deployed at the South African embassy in Pakistan to seek their help to investigate the mystery of this international connection to the crime.
Acting immediately, police officials stationed at the South African embassy contacted their country and filed a case under Section 205 of the South African Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 to seek the identity of an unknown caller involved in the kidnapping for ransom case.
According to the Khushab DPO, after the South African investigation, police will be able to come to the conclusion whether the call was actually made from South Africa or the call was made from Pakistan via roaming. But as per a senior cop, the police department has evidence which reportedly establishes a strong connection of a gang in South Africa involved in this case.
On the other hand, with the help of IB, the police were continuously collecting information about the location of the abductors through locators. Similarly, with the help of CCTV, a police team traced a suspicious vehicle and tracked it down.
As police teams were pursuing the suspects through mobile phones and a suspicious vehicle, a major breakthrough came in the shape of details of SIMs used by the alleged kidnappers.
According to DPO Naveed, through SIM cards, they obtained all the details of the owners of the SIMs. Besides this, police records were checked and they turned out to be ‘record holders’ as they were already named in crimes.
“The revenue [department] then traced their properties, which led us to information where the suspects might be going. First the suspects went to Rawalpindi and then to Attock Khurd,” the DPO revealed.
Eventually police reached the house where the alleged kidnappers were hiding. Police commandos surrounded the house from all sides and a team entered the premises. It was a very desolate house but in one of its rooms, two suspects were sitting with the minor child. “The child was absolutely silent but calm when we recovered him,” recalls the SHO.
According to the DPO, the child was recovered within 42 hours of the abduction. The SHO stated that the arrested accused were unarmed when apprehended. The alleged kidnappers were apprehended and shifted to an undisclosed location for interrogation.
According to the SHO, the owner of the house will be questioned as to why and for what purpose he had given this house to such criminals on rent.
Responding to a query, Khushab DPO further said there were many Pakistanis living in European countries and, sometimes, in their personal resentments and family feuds, they target their opponents in Pakistan through hired assassins.
According to the DPO, this was the first major case of his career in which a ransom of up to Rs100m was demanded because usually local gangs do not demand such a large amount in ransom cases.
According to Naveed, an investigation will determine whether the arrested suspects were among the four people who abducted the child from Hadali or they were merely facilitators. He further said that the police were searching for other accused involved in the case.
Abdul Rehman’s elder brother and the complainant in the case, Rana Khalil, told Bol News that they’re happy to see their child return home safe and sound. In response to a question, he stated that his brother Abdul Rehman had also reached Pakistan as soon as he got news of the incident.
In response to a question, DPO Naveed explained that he had talked to Abdul Rehman in detail about the abduction and the call made to him in which he confirmed that there were many such groups in South Africa who were involved in such heinous crimes.