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Forces rescue son of Pakistan ex-PM

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ISLAMABAD, May 10, (AFP): Afghan and international forces freed the kidnapped son of a former Pakistani prime minister during a raid on an al-Qaeda cell in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan said Tuesday, three years after he was kidnapped in a hail of bullets. Ali Haider Gilani, son of Yousaf Raza Gilani, was “released from the terrorists” during the raid in eastern Afghanistan, the Afghan presidency said, adding that he is now at the Pakistani embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry also said in a statement that Gilani had been recovered “today in a joint operation carried out by the Afghan and US security forces”. Preparations are being made to return him to Pakistan following a medical check-up, it said, but offered no further detail. Yousaf Raza Gilani broke the news to a cheering crowd at a political rally in Pakistani-held Kashmir Tuesday. “This rally has proved fortunate for me,” he said. “When I was about to board the helicopter (to come) I received the information that my son Ali Haider Gilani, who was kidnapped three years ago, has been recovered.”

Hundreds of people converged on the family’s home in Multan in central Punjab province as the news broke, dancing to drumbeats and passing around sweets in celebration. The brother of kidnapped Ali Haider, Abdul Qadir Gilani, told media he was “so happy today that I can’t explain it in words”. “He is still in Afghanistan and soon he will be among us,” he said of his brother. Earlier, Abdul Qadir said he believed his father had gone to Afghanistan on learning the news

“God has accepted somebody’s prayer. The prayer of those who love us,” a third brother, Ali Musa Gilani, told media. NATO officials in Kabul were unable to immediately confirm the Pakistani statement. “We are aware of the report,” a spokesman for the NATOled international coalition in Afghanistan told AFP, adding that more details would be provided once they were “available for release”.

There were conflicting statements from Pakistani and Afghan officials over where the raid took place, whether in the eastern province of Ghazni or in neighbouring Paktia. Provincial officials in Ghazni were also unable to provide immediate confirmation or details. Gilani was kidnapped by militants in the outskirts of Multan on May 9, 2013, just two days before a bitterly contested national election in which he was campaigning. Gunmen on a motorbike opened fire before abducting him in a black Honda car.

His secretary and a bodyguard were killed, and four people wounded. In May last year he was able to phone his father to tell him he was well. The ex-premier’s family is one of the most powerful in Multan and a key clan in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which lost the 2013 election.

The foreign ministry statement comes two months after the kidnapped son of another Pakistani politician was also freed. Shahbaz Taseer, son of slain Punjabi governor Salman Taseer, spent five years in militant captivity before his abrupt release in March. “Welcome back @haidergilani,” Shahbaz Taseer tweeted Tuesday, adding an image of the Pakistani flag. Bilawal Bhutto, chairman of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, also tweeted about the release.

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