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A sad update from Palau

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Akram was one of those little boys who never seemed to cry. He fell down. He got up. He giggled. He watched you with wide eyes. He giggled. If you actually tried to make him laugh, the giggles ran together and ended in hiccups. His laugh was contagious.

Akram Abdulrahman, 22-months-old, died late Friday on the Pacific island of Palau in the hospital where he had been surviving only with the help of life support. He had never regained consciousness since falling off a balcony a few days earlier. He had pulled a chair quickly and quietly to the edge to peer over to see what one of his uncles was doing down below. The trauma to his head was too great. Nothing could be done. Many tried.

News of his death will spread quickly in Palau - not just because news always travels quickly on the island of 20,000 - but also because Akram is the son of one of the island's most famous residents, Abdulghappar Abdulrahman, one of six former Guantanamo detainees given refuge there four years ago.

Abdulrahman is Uighur, a Muslim ethnic minority persecuted in China. Twenty-two Uighur men were caught in the post-9/11 dragnet and endured years of detention even though the courts declared their incarceration illegal. Palau was one of the few nations willing to help the U.S. find homes for the men and in doing so, accept China's wrath.

Palau was supposed to be temporary - it's not an easy life there for them. Yet, it is there five of them remain, each other's family, as they build their own. (One of the men managed to flee to Turkey to join his wife and child.)

Abdulrahman's wife came to join him a few years ago. They were doting parents to Akram - theirs was a house of happiness despite Abdulrahman's sadness.

Three weeks before Akram died, the couple welcomed their second son, a birth overwhelmed now by such tragedy. Akram died on his father's 40th birthday.

Ahmad Abdulahad, one of Akram's "uncles" wrote an email on behalf of Akram's parents, thanking everyone for the concern.

Our hearts are breaking, he wrote.

"We are very sad."


Michelle Shephard is the Toronto Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm


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