5-YEAR HOSTAGE ORDEAL OVER
Family rescued from terror group
American Caitlan Coleman was already pregnant when she and new husband Joshua Boyle, a Canadian, set off on an unusual adventure in 2012, a backpacking tour of rough-hewn central-Asian countries.
The trip would only get more offbeat. By October of that year, they had crossed into Afghanistan, a country still wracked by a bloody insurgency.
And then disaster struck, the couple taken captive by a Talibanlinked terror group and held for five years, with Coleman giving birth to not just one but three children amid what she called “atrocities” by the kidnappers.
The nightmarish — and bizarre — hostage drama finally ended this week, as a raid Wednesday by Pakistani troops freed the parents and their three children from the grips of the notorious Haqqani network.
Acting on “real-time” intelligence from American sources, elite Special Services Group troops attacked the kidnappers as they moved the hostages across the frontier from Afghanistan, said Tariq Azim Khan, the Pakistani high commissioner to Canada.
“Pakistan commandos took action at the border and there was a shootout, and eventually Mr. Boyle, Ms. Coleman and the three children were rescued,” he said in an interview Thursday. “One or two of (the kidnappers) escaped on foot into the area and a search operation is still going on to catch hold of them.”
One report suggested Boyle, 34, was slightly wounded in the gunfight. Khan said the family was unharmed, and flown by helicopter to the capital, Islamabad.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said she could not confirm a report by The Associated Press that the family had refused to fly to the U.S. on board an American military aircraft, opting for a later commercial flight instead.
Boyle’s parents, federal tax court Justice Patrick Boyle and wife Linda, voiced only relief in a brief video statement they released Thursday. They had also just learned another stunning bit of news — the arrival this summer of their third grandchild.
“It was amazing,” Linda Boyle said of the telephone call she got from her son, the first in five years. “He told me how much his children were looking forward to meeting their grandparents and that he would see me in a couple of days.”
Patrick Boyle thanked the American, Afghan and Canadian governments for their efforts.
“Most importantly we relayed to the Pakistani high commissioner our thanks for the courageous Pakistani soldiers who risked their lives and got all five of ours out safely,” he added.
And yet the operation was something of a surprise, partly because the Pakistani government has been repeatedly criticized for quietly supporting the Haqqani group. Western critics say it uses such militants to extend its influence in Afghanistan and as a buffer against rival India.
Only a few months ago, the U.S. had withheld US$50 million in aid for Pakistan because it was allegedly doing too little to combat the terrorist organization that seized Boyle and Coleman.
President Donald Trump suggested Thursday the development meant Pakistan was now honouring America’s wishes to do more to “provide security in the region.”
But Khan said past criticism has been unfair, overlooking the fact that 8,000 Pakistani soldiers and 71,000 civilians have been killed in clashes with various terrorists.
“By the actions taken today, I think those type of allegations and those type of fears will be put to rest,” the diplomat said. “They (terrorists) are no friends of ours.”
For Boyle and Coleman, 31, the events capped the latest chapter in a colourful history, one that includes another brush with Islamic extremist figures.
Boyle had been married briefly to Zaynab Khadr, sister to Omar Khadr, convicted of terrorist acts by the States after a long and controversial sojourn in the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The whole Khadr family spent years in Afghanistan, their father an al-Qaida member. Osama bin Laden even attended one of Zaynab’s earlier weddings.
Now living in Sudan, she has been pilloried for past comments suggesting that the 9/11 attacks were justified, and praising Afghanistan’s former Taliban government.
They later divorced and Boyle’s kidnapping has been called a “horrible coincidence.”
Coleman would seem a much different mate, growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, bonding with Boyle over a mutual love of Star Wars. They married in Costa Rica in 2011 while on a trek through Latin America.
The couple had not initially included Afghanistan on their central-Asian itinerary, their families say. But within days of entering the country, hiking through Wardak province near the Pakistani border, they were captured by the Haqqani network.
Remarkably, the couple burgeoned into a family under the most nerve-racking of conditions.
Boyle described delivering his second son by flashlight in one of several letters exchanged between him and his parents through intermediaries, and first reported by the Toronto Star.
But sources suggested the hostage-takers became infuriated that the Afghan government had secretly tried and planned to execute a leader of the Haqqani network, and in a video released late last year, the couple warned they could be killed.
“We have waited since 2012 for somebody to understand our problems, the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves,” Coleman said. “Our children have seen their mother defiled.”
But a video the families provided recently to the Star and ABC-TV in the U.S., and recorded this January, hinted at a possible breakthrough.
“For the first time, we have hope that things might wrap up soon, God willing,” said Boyle.
It would be another 10 months, however, before they got away, with the help of heavily armed soldiers.
WE HAVE WAITED SINCE 2012 FOR SOMEBODY TO UNDERSTAND OUR PROBLEMS.
An image from a Taliban video showing hostages Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle with two of their children in December 2016. Coleman, an American, and Boyle, a Canadian originally from the Ottawa area, had been held by the Haqqani network since 2012. Their three children were all born in custody.