Joy as baby given to US soldier during Afghan withdrawal is reunited with relatives

An infant boy handed in desperation to a US soldier across an airport wall in the chaos of the American evacuation of Afghanistan has been found and reunited with his relatives.

The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was just two months old when he went missing on 19 August as thousands of people rushed to leave Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban.

Following a Reuters story published in November with his pictures, the baby was located in Kabul, where a 29-year-old taxi driver named Hamid Safi had found him in the airport and taken him home to raise as his own. After more than seven weeks of negotiations, Safi handed the child back to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives still in Kabul on Saturday.

They said they would now seek to have him reunited with his parents and siblings who were evacuated months ago to the US.

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 be crushed in the crowd as they neared the airport gates.

Mirza Ali Ahmadi said in early November that 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 five metres (15 feet) to the entrance to reclaim him. 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.

With no US embassy in Afghanistan and international organisations overstretched, Afghan refugees have had trouble getting answers on the timing, or possibility, of complex reunifications like this one.

“We are working to reunify the family,” a State Department official said.

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 said 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 said he decided: “If his family is found, I will give him to them. If not, I will raise him myself.” They called the baby Mohammad Abed and posted pictures of all the children together on his Facebook page.

After the story about the missing child came out, some of Safi’s neighbours – who had noticed his return from the airport months earlier with a baby – recognised the photos.

Ahmadi asked his relatives still in Afghanistan, including his father-in-law Mohammad Qasem Razawi, 67, who lives in the north-eastern province of Badakhshan, to seek out Safi and ask him to return Sohail to the family.

In the presence of the police, and amid lots of tears, the baby was finally returned to his relatives.

Razawi said Safi and his family were devastated to lose Sohail. “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,” he said. “I thanked both of them for saving the child from the airport.”

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,” Razawi said. “It is just like a wedding.”

Now Ahmadi and his wife and other children, who in early December were able to move off a military base and resettle in an apartment in Michigan, hope Sohail will soon be brought to the US. “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.”

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