After more than seven weeks of negotiations and prayers, and ultimately a brief detention by the Taliban police, Mr Safi finally handed the child back to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives still in Kabul.
During the tumultuous Afghan evacuation over the summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi – the boy’s father who had worked as a security guard at the US Embassy – and his wife Suraya feared that their son would be crushed in the crowd as they approached the airport gate on their way to a plane to USA.
Ahmadi told Reuters in early November in his desperation that day that he handed Sohail over the airport wall to a uniformed soldier he thought was an American, and he fully expected that he would soon reach the remaining five meters to the entrance to recapture him.
At that very moment, Taliban forces pushed the crowd back, and it would be another half hour before Ahmadi, his wife, and their four other children were able to enter.
But then the baby was nowhere to be found.
Ahmadi said he was desperately looking for his son inside the airport and was told by officials that he had probably been taken out of the country separately and could be reunited with them later.
The rest of the family was evacuated – and eventually ended up at a military base in Texas. For months, they had no idea where their son was.
The case highlights the situation of many parents who are separated from their children during the hasty evacuation efforts and the withdrawal of US forces from the country after a 20-year war.
Without any US embassy in Afghanistan and international organizations overloaded, Afghan refugees have had trouble getting answers to the timing or the possibility of complex reunions like this.
The U.S. Department of Defense, State Department and Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
The same day that Mr Ahmadi and his family were separated from their baby, Mr Safi had slipped through the gates of Kabul airport after giving a ride to his brother’s family, who were also to be evacuated.
The Taliban use whips against Afghan female protesters
Safi said he found Sohail alone and crying on the ground. After saying that he unsuccessfully tried to find the baby’s parents inside, he decided to take the infant home to his wife and children. Safi himself has three daughters and said his mother’s biggest wish before she died was that he should have a son.
At that moment, he decided, “I will keep this baby. If his family is found, I will give him to them. If not, I will raise him myself,” he told Reuters in an interview in late November.
Sir. Safi told Reuters he took him to the doctor for check-up after he was found and quickly incorporated the child into his family. They named the baby Mohammad Abed and posted pictures of all the children together on his Facebook page.
After the Reuters story of the missing child came out, some of Mr Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed his return from the airport months earlier with a baby – recognized the pictures and wrote comments about his whereabouts on a translated version of the article.
Ahmadi asked his relatives who are still in Afghanistan, including his father-in-law Mohammad Qasem Razawi, 67, who lives in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, to seek out Mr Safi and ask him to return Sohail to the family.
The complaint was investigated and rejected, and the local police chief told Reuters that he helped arrange a settlement, which included an agreement signed with thumbprints by both sides. Sir. Razawi said the baby’s family eventually agreed to compensate Mr Safi about 100,000 Afghans ($ 1,300) for expenses incurred to look after him for five months.
“The baby’s grandfather complained to us and we found Hamid, and based on the evidence we had, we recognized the baby,” said Hamid Malang, the local police station chief area inspector. “With the agreement of both parties, the baby will be handed over to his grandfather,” he said Saturday.
In the presence of the police and during lots of tears, the baby was finally returned to his relatives.
Razawi said Mr Safi and his family were devastated to lose Sohail. “Hamid and his wife cried, I cried too, but assured them that you are both young, Allah will give you a male child. Not one, but several. I thanked them both for saving the child from the airport,” Mr. Razawi said.
The baby’s parents told Reuters they were overjoyed when they could see with their own eyes the reunion over video chat.
“There are festivities, dancing, singing,” Mr Razawi said. “It’s actually like a wedding.”
Now Ahmadi and his wife and other children, who in early December were able to move from the military base and resettle in an apartment in Michigan, hope that Sohail will soon be brought to the United States.
“We have to get the child back to his mother and father. This is my sole responsibility,” his grandfather said. “My wish is that he should return to them.”