The five living children of a man who fled to Pakistan before the battered body of his 10-year-old daughter was found by British police weeks ago have been located in their grandfather’s home, according to Pakistani authorities.
The children, aged between one and 13 years old, were found during a police raid on Monday in the small city of Jhelum. Their grandfather told Sky News that he had felt a “duty to protect” the children, who had been living with him since being brought to Pakistan weeks ago.
One of the children’s aunts told BBC News that they were visibly upset while being taken into custody on Monday. “The children were crying, the police were dragging them away,” Farzana Malik said.
The discovery comes just over a month after the children’s 41-year-old father, Urfan Sharif, made a 999 call to British emergency services from Pakistan. Having flown out of the United Kingdom the previous day, Sharif informed police they would find his young daughter, Sara Sharif, dead at the family’s home in Surrey.
Police believe that Sharif left the U.K. with Sara’s stepmother, Beinash Batool, 29, his brother, Faisal Malik, 28, and the five children in tow. Authorities are seeking to question the three adults, who remained at large Tuesday, about Sara’s death. Sky News reported that at least four teams were combing Jhelum for the fugitives.
Sara’s five siblings were remanded into government custody by a judge on Tuesday, and were placed in a childcare facility by the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau. The judge’s ruling does not say for how long the children are set to stay in the facility, according to the BBC.
Muhammad Sharif, Urfan’s father, had asked the court to allow the children to stay in his home after they were found there. Emerging from the courtroom into what the BBC described as a chaotic scene outside, he did not comment on the decision.
Muhammad has repeatedly insisted he does not know where his son is. He previously said that he’d seen Urfan after the family landed, but has had no contact with him since. Last Friday, he told The Guardian that Sara’s had been “an accidental death,” and urged the trio to turn themselves in.
“Police are harassing my family, they have arrested my other sons and son-in-law,” he added. “We are confined in our house and the relatives have abandoned us.”
A Jhelum police spokesperson confirmed earlier this month that at least 10 close relatives had been detained but not arrested. Police were criticized for holding several detainees, including Sharif’s two brothers, in secret locations to try and lure the fugitives out, according to The Guardian.
Speaking to the media over the past few weeks, Muhammad never mentioned that he was sheltering his grandchildren. Asked about it on Tuesday by the BBC, the 68-year-old said, “Until today, no one had asked me about the children. They kept asking me about Urfan, Faisal, and Beinash, no one asked me about the children.”
British officials said they were working with Pakistani authorities on the matter. Tim Oliver, leader of the Surrey County Council, told the BBC that their priority was ensuring “the immediate and longer-term safety and wellbeing of the children.”
Meanwhile, Surrey police are investigating Sara’s death as a murder. After her body was discovered in the family’s semi-detached council home on Aug. 10, a pathologist determined that she had suffered “multiple and extensive injuries” over a “sustained and extended” period.
On Aug. 23, a parent at the school Sara had attended told the BBC that she’d seen the girl with “clearly visible” facial injuries.
“Just before the Easter holidays she was in school and had cuts and bruises on her face and her neck,” the woman said. “My daughter had asked what had happened and she said she’d fallen off a bike and then kind of walked away. The next day the teacher announced she had left school and she was being homeschooled.” She never saw Sara again.
A neighbor told the news service that Sara had seemed like a “reserved and quiet” child. “She often carried the baby in her arms, and sometimes I saw her playing with him,” the neighbor said. “I never saw her smile or laugh.”
Last week, Sharif and Batool released a video statement through their relatives, breaking their silence on Sara’s death, which Batool referred to as an “incident.” Reading from a notebook, she went on to say that the couple had “gone into hiding” out of fear that the Pakistani police would torture or kill them. She ended the video by saying that they were willing to cooperate with U.K. authorities to fight their case.
Sharif, sitting next to her, did not speak.
Sara’s Polish mother, Olga Sharif, née Domin, met Urfan in 2001 while both were working at a Burger King, according to The Sunday Times. The couple wed in 2009, had two children including Sara, and separated in 2015.
In an interview with Polish television channel TVN, Olga said that it had become increasingly difficult to see her children, who were sent to live with their father by a family court in 2019.
Olga was also the one brought in to identify Sara, whom she barely recognized, she said. “One of her cheeks was swollen and the other side was bruised,” she recalled. “Even now, when I close my eyes I can see what my baby looked like.”