Freed son of Pakistani's former PM reunited with his family after 3-year hostage ordeal

KABUL (AFP) - The freed son of a former Pakistani premier said on Wednesday (May 11) he was "looking forward to being reunited with my family" before meeting them in a shower of rose petals in Lahore, three years after he was kidnapped then taken to Afghanistan.

Mr Ali Haider Gilani, son of Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, was freed during a counter-terror raid by US and Afghan forces in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. He was handed over to Pakistani officials in Kabul after his hostage ordeal.

"I really appreciate Afghan forces who fought for my recovery," Mr Gilani, who was bearded, clad in a white T-shirt and sporting a camouflage baseball cap, told officials at the ceremony in Kabul.

"I would also like to thank the US forces which at the critical moments of my release provided me with shelter, food and medical care."

Crowds of well-wishers dancing to drum beats greeted the 30-year-old's arrival at his family's home in Lahore in a black SUV strewn with pink rose petals.

Mr Gilani, who is a triplet, was accompanied by his brother Ali Kasim on the journey from Kabul in a plane that the Pakistani foreign ministry said was sent by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

His father was reportedly absent from the reunion, with television channels reporting his appearance in a court in Islamabad on corruption charges.

Mr Gilani was rescued in the Giyan district of Paktika province on Tuesday by US Special Operations Forces and Afghan commandos in a partnered raid, Nato has said.

The Afghan presidency said the raid targeted an Al-Qaeda cell.

Mr Gilani was kidnapped by militants in the outskirts of Multan in the central Pakistani province of Punjab on May 9, 2013, just two days before a bitterly contested national election in which he was campaigning. He was 27 at the time.

In May last year, he was able to phone his father to tell him he was well.

On Tuesday his father broke the news of his release to a cheering crowd at a political rally in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, as hundreds of people gathered at the family's home in Multan in central Punjab province to celebrate the news.

Nato said the raid was carried out under Operation Freedom's Sentinel, the US mission focusing on counter-terrorism as well as training, advising and assisting Afghan troops.

Four "enemy combatants" were killed during the raid, it said.

The Pentagon was tight-lipped about events leading up to the raid, but said it occurred after US and Afghan forces had "identified terrorist activity".

"There were terrorists where they struck and conducted this raid, and during that activity they were able to rescue Mr Gilani," US Central Command spokesman Colonel Pat Ryder said.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter heralded the raid as evidence of progress by Afghanistan's struggling security services.