Sohail Ahmadi, the infant handed over a barricade to American soldiers during the chaos at the Kabul airport in August in a famous viral photograph, was reunited with his relatives in Kabul on Saturday.
Ahmadi’s five-month journey home reportedly included being “detained” by the Taliban police.
Sohail Ahmadi was two months old when he was handed to an American soldier over a fence at Kabul airport to protect him from the crush as thousands tried to flee the Taliban.
— BBC World Service (@bbcworldservice) January 10, 2022
According to Reuters, Sohail Ahmadi was only two months old when he was handed over the barricade by his parents, who were among the thousands of people desperately attempting to get into Hamid Karzai International Airport to escape from the Taliban advance.
Sohail’s father Mirza Ali Ahmadi, a former security guard for the U.S. Embassy, said he thought he was only temporarily handing his son over to American forces, to keep him safe from the crushing pressure of the crowd. Mirza and his wife Suraya intended to collect the baby as soon as they made it past the barricades themselves.
Half an hour later, the couple got into the airport, but Sohail was nowhere to be found. Ahmadi searched fruitlessly for his son for days until he was obliged to board an evacuation flight to Qatar with his wife and four other children. The couple hoped their missing son had already been safely transported out of Afghanistan on another flight.
Reuters said it was unclear exactly what happened to Sohail after he was handed up to the soldiers in the famous video. The Biden State Department, Defense Department, and Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment on the story.
Somehow Sohail wound up lying on the ground at the airport, where his cries were heard by a 29-year-old Kabul taxi driver named Hamid Safi, who had just managed to slip his brother’s families past the gates for an evacuation flight.
Safi said he tried to locate the baby’s family, and when his efforts were unsuccessful, he brought Sohail home to live with his wife and three daughters, renaming him Mohammad Abed. After Reuters ran a story about the missing child in November, some of Safi’s neighbors recognized the boy in photos of his newly enlarged family Safi posted on Facebook.
Sohail’s father Murza Ali Ahmadi, by this time living at a military base in Texas, contacted his father-in-law Mohammad Qasem Razawi in Afghanistan and asked him to recover Sohail from Safi. An awkward situation ensued:
Razawi said he traveled two days and two nights to the capital bearing gifts – including a slaughtered sheep, several pounds of walnuts and clothing – for Safi and his family.
But Safi refused to release Sohail, insisting he also wanted to be evacuated from Afghanistan with his family. Safi’s brother, who was evacuated to California, said Safi and his family have no pending applications for U.S. entry.
The baby’s family sought help from the Red Cross, which has a stated mission to help reconnect people separated by international crises, but said they received little information from the organization. A spokesperson for the Red Cross said it does not comment on individual cases.
Finally, after feeling they had run out of options, Razawi contacted the local Taliban police to report a kidnapping. Safi told Reuters he denied the allegations to the police and said he was caring for the baby, not kidnapping him.
The Taliban police dismissed the kidnapping complaint but decided to broker a “settlement” in which the Ahmadi family paid Safi about $950 in expenses. It took weeks to hammer out the details of this agreement, during part of which time Sohail was taken into the custody of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” as the Taliban styles its regime.
On Saturday, Sohail was returned to Razawi and other relatives in Kabul “amid lots of tears,” including from Safi, who was “devastated” to lose custody of the boy. His parents watched via video chat from their permanent home, an apartment in Michigan. Sohail’s grandparents invited the Safis to visit on Sunday and spend time with Sohail before he returns to his parents.
“Hamid and his wife were crying, I cried too, but assured them that you both are young, Allah will give you male child. Not one, but several. I thanked both of them for saving the child from the airport,” Razawi said.
“We need to get the baby back to his mother and father. This is my only responsibility. My wish is that he should return to them. If we had not found his family then we would have protected and raised him as our own child,” he said.
“If we had not found his family then we would have protected and raised him as our own child,” Safi told AFP.
“I felt responsible for him like a mother. He used to wake up a lot at night. Now when I wake up he is not there and that makes me cry,” Safi’s wife Farimah said.