LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — The son of a former Pakistani prime minister who was freed from kidnappers in a dramatic military rescue in Afghanistan was flown back home Wednesday and reunited with family, officials and family members said.
Earlier in the day, Ali Haider Gilani was brought by helicopter to the Afghan Ministry of Defense in Kabul, where he was greeted with hugs and handshakes by Pakistani Ambassador Abrar Hussain. The Pakistani government had sent a special plane sent to Kabul to bring former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's son back.
The younger Gilani was rescued during a joint U.S. -Afghan commando raid on an al-Qaida compound near the Pakistani border on Tuesday, after three years of captivity by militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
After a night at a military base near Kabul where he underwent medical check-ups, he arrived at the ministry with long hair and a heavy beard, wearing a T-shirt, combat trousers and a baseball cap.
Speaking in halting English, he thanked Afghan forces for "their sacrifice for someone from another country" and also U.S. forces for providing shelter, food and medical care.
After touching down in Lahore, he waved to cameras but refused to talk to reporters, saying only that he was looking forward to returning to normal life.
Yusuf Raza Gilani served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012, during which time his secular Pakistan People's Party government led several military offensives against the Taliban and allied Islamic militants.
Outside the Lahore airport, party supporters beat drums and danced and threw rose petals as the SUV with Ali Haider, his 6-year-old son sitting in his lap, passed by.
"We are thankful to God," said Ali Haider's older brother, Abdul Qadir.
At the family home in Lahore, Fauzia Gilani hugged her son with wet eyes. "All praises to God for keeping my son safe. I am also grateful to all those who helped rescue my son," she told reporters.
The younger Gilani's rescue had been a "nice surprise," the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said earlier.
It was not known that Gilani was being held at the location where the raid was taking place in the Gayan district of Paktika province, along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter praised the rescue, calling it "an excellent example of the strong security and intelligence partnership between Afghan and U.S. forces."
Faiez reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.