Features

Operation rescue

"Operation rescue" Continued...

Issue: "Books and Movies 2006," July 1, 2006

Mr. Khan told him they needed to check whether Amir's money was counterfeit first, and took his bodyguard hostage in case it was. Amir managed to rip the camera off the bodyguard first; he ordered him to open his car's trunk, which gave him enough cover to make the exchange.

As the night deepened, Amir did something else daring: He followed Mr. Khan's car and filmed him driving to JUD's headquarters near Muridke, Punjab. The next night, Mr. Khan fixed a drop-off point for the boys and the bodyguard. Amir arranged for friends to pick them up and take them to a Christian friend's home.

David and Amir the next morning woke the boys-filthy after months of captivity in a windowless room-and told them they were safe and going home. "None of them smiled," David said. "I don't think any of them believed us."

The men split up the group to protect the boys from a fresh kidnapping, and within days Amir and David, with a London Times reporter tagging along, returned six to their families. They came from all over Pakistan, aged about 7 to 13, convincing David and Amir further that this was a JUD operation. Only a network could have scouted out villages and identified Christian children. "Again, all of them were Christian kids," David said. "The chances of them randomly selecting 20 Christian boys are quite rare." In the end, Amir also purchased 15 kidnapped girls in May.

David says that as the boys neared their homes, their eyes lit up as they recognized landmarks. The first boy they returned had a 2-month-old baby brother he did not know about. Some of the parents were too shocked to be happy, stunned to see sons they thought were gone forever and bewildered by the Westerners helping to return them. All who were asked said they did not bother to tell the police the boys were missing, because they did not have enough money to bribe officers.

But the last reunion, David said, was the most touching. A neighbor told the father of the last boy, Asif, that his son was coming and to sit at home until the car found his house. But he wouldn't wait, and came running down a path to find him, scooping up Asif in his arms.

With his work done, it was not long before JUD discovered Amir's treachery. By then he had fled, but JUD has been busy in the intervening weeks, locating Amir's home and office and then visiting them, asking when he will return.

The State Department has designated JUD as a terrorist group, one of the faces of a large organization called Lashkar-i-Taiba (LT) that fights against India in the disputed region of Kashmir. In 2002, Pakistan banned LT. Some of their top members have reported links to al-Qaeda. Pakistanis, however, view JUD as a friendly charity. The group grew immensely popular after last year's massive earthquake by distributing food and medicine to survivors.

The U.S. embassy in Islamabad is still working on Amir's case, the State Department says. David has heard that they are asking Amir for details he has been afraid to give until he is safe, such as precise addresses for the children. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers such as Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) have pressed for quick action to give Amir sanctuary. Now Amir hopes just to win safety for his family.

Stopping JUD is the "way we can save so many families," he wrote David in the same June 18 e-mail. "And [I] believe that [the] Lord will give me the reward of my efforts."

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