Fam­ily freed in Pak­istan af­ter hostage or­deal

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - TOM BLACK­WELL

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

PAK­ISTANI COM­MAN­DOS RES­CUE CANA­DIAN, WIFE, 3 KIDS

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.

YOUTUBE

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.

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