THE BIZARRE CASE OF JOSHUA BOYLE

I was gen­uinely ex­cited when the Hori­zon Fes­ti­val's new ra­dio sta­tions started broad­cast­ing. Fi­nally. I thought. some­thing to lis­ten to other than Ra­dio Cum­bria's bi-weekly dis­cus­sion about fish­ing by­laws. At last. I can hear the kind of mu­sic I like—musi

Ottawa Magazine - - BY THE BOOK - MARK BOURRIE

IT WAS SUP­POSED TO BE an or­di­nary photo op for Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. Late De­cem­ber 2017 was a slow time on the Hill, so Trudeau had a few min­utes for the Boyles, a fam­ily of five who had just es­caped years of cap­tiv­ity in Afghanistan. Joshua Boyle; his wife, Cait­lan Cole­man; and their three kids were led in. Cam­eras clicked as daugh­ter Male­lab Grace, just over a year, bounced on the prime min­is­ter's knee. Dhak­w­cen Noah, 2, stood nearby while Na­ja2shi Jonah, 5, pushed fur­ni­ture around. Trudeau nod­ded as Joshua talked of their im­pris­on­ment by the Haqqani net­work, a group of free­lance for-profit kid­nap­pers. Cait­lan watched with what seemed like a dis­in­ter­ested look on her face. Then Trudeau went on with the rest of his day. The Boyle fam­ily soon posted pho­tos of their en­counter on Twit­ter un­der

the aptly named han­dle @BoylesVsWorld. Within hours, Trudeau haters were all over th­ese pic­tures, pulling apart the fam­ily's story. Strate­gists in the Prime Min­is­ter's Of­fice woke up to the idea that some­thing had just gone wrong and started dig­ging. What they found was enough to make them wish Boyle had cho­sen some other leader to hit up for a photo op — maybe some­one like Pres­i­dent Don­ald 'frump, who had al­ready lever-aged the fam­ily's sit­u­a­tion for his own pur­poses. Within days, things got much, much worse for 'frudeau's spin­ners when they learned Boyle was locked up at the Innes Road jail. At first glance, Boyle seemed to be the right kind of guy for a prime min­is­te­rial en­counter. They're both Star Wars fans — Trudeau kept Star Wars books and ac­tion fig­ures in his of­fice be­fore he be­came prime min­is­ter. But the back­story of the Boyles will keep any pic­tures from that photo op out of Trudeau's re-elec­tion cam­paign ads. Boyle's fa­ther is re­tired tax court judge Pa­trick Boyle, and that's about the end of any­thing re­sem­bling a nor­mal life. The Boyles are de­vout Chris­tians who home-schooled Joshua at their Smiths Falls home through the el­e­men­tary grades be­fore send­ing him to a pri­vate Chris­tian high school in south­west­ern On­tario's Men­non­ite county As a teenager, Boyle be­came a Wikipedia edi­tor — part of the nerdy, of­ten pre­ten­tious, male-dom­i­nated com­mu­nity that types in con­tent for the world's largest on­line en­cy­clo­pe­dia. Dur­ing that time, he was also drawn into on­line Is­lamic prop-aganda. The two in­ter­ests meshed as Boyle spent thou­sands of hours of un­paid re­search and writ­ing on Wikipedia as "Sherur­cij." He claimed to have writ­ten most of Wikipedia's

en­tries on Is­lamic-in­spired ter­ror­ism. Friends said he did this re­search to learn more about what at­tracted peo­ple to ex­trem­ism, but the in­ter­est seems to have seeped from his on­line life into the real world.

He told some friends he would some­day like to be a Cana­dian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice (CSIS) agent, a spo­ken fan­tasy that would some­day blow back on him.

In 2002, Boyle was an 18-year-old kid liv­ing in a small Toronto apart­ment, spend­ing his time on­line. Ac­cord­ing to the Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen, that’s where he met Cait­lan Cole­man, man­ager of a ru­ral Penn­syl­va­nia Quiznos. They soon dis­cov­ered they had com­mon in­ter­ests in bondage sex and back­pack­ing. Cole­man, who had also come from a de­vout Chris­tian fam­ily and was home-schooled, hur­ried north to move in with Boyle.

The bub­ble soon burst. Rather than ex­plor­ing the de­lights of Canada’s largest me­trop­o­lis, Cole­man found her­self clean­ing the teen grime from Boyle’s apart­ment to make it hab­it­able. Boyle later said the bloom went off the rose when Cole­man tried to push him into the sub­way. What­ever hap­pened, Cole­man was soon back in the United States and Boyle was be­tween ro­man­tic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

This changed when he met the Khadrs. In 2006, po­lice swept up the Toronto 18, a group of hap­less would-be ter­ror­ists whose bizarre bomb­ing and as­sas­si­na­tion plots were sup­posed to cli­max with the pub­lic be­head­ing of the prime min­is­ter. Boyle, now Wikipedia’s self-styled au­thor­ity on Is­lamic-themed ter­ror­ism, showed up at their court hear­ings. So did Zaynab Khadr and her mother, who were also ag­i­tat­ing for the re­turn of Omar Khadr, Zaynab’s younger brother.

Boyle was drawn to th­ese celebri­ties. Zaynab Khadr, who had be­come a tar­get of on­line ha­tred af­ter she de­nounced Western moral­ity on a CBC tele­vi­sion in­ter­view, avoided Boyle be­cause some­one in their over­lap­ping cir­cle of friends had told her of Boyle’s fan­tasy of join­ing CSIS. But Boyle didn’t give up, and by 2008 they were en­gaged — and Boyle was act­ing as the spokesman for the Khadr fam­ily.

They tied the knot at Toronto City Hall in 2009. She was 29, he was 25, and this was her third mar­riage. Her mar­i­tal life had had its ups and downs. Her first hus­band was on the run for bomb­ing Egypt’s em­bassy in Pak­istan. Osama bin Laden was guest of hon­our at her sec­ond wed­ding, partly be­cause Khadr’s fa­ther, who had been killed by Pak­istani se­cu­rity forces in 2003, had been one of bin Laden’s most im­por­tant bag­men.

Af­ter she met Boyle, Khadr con­tin­ued to be a dial-a-quote for jour­nal­ists look­ing for in­flam­ma­tory copy. She obliged with tirades on the deca­dence of Western child-rear­ing and jus­ti­fied the 9/11 at­tacks in the United States.

Boyle al­ways stuck by his wife. “Are any of us hon­estly able to say that we have never ut­tered any phrases which, if they ran be­side our name in the pa­per ev­ery month for five years, would paint an un­flat­ter­ing men­tal im­age in the pub­lic per­cep­tion?” he asked, adding, “Let he with­out sin cast the first stone.”

Plenty of peo­ple seemed will­ing to do just that, both in the on­line world where Boyle spent most of his time and in real life.

Some­one broke into Boyle’s par­ents’ house in Smiths Falls by bust­ing through the front door. They ri­fled through doc­u­ments and put sev­eral bul­let holes in the win­dows. Boyle was sure the break-in was about him: the Khadrs had given him doc­u­ments that were sup­posed to be used for a book about the fam­ily. Th­ese were gone, miss­ing from his par­ents’ house, where he had stored them.

“I’m sure I don’t have to spec­u­late for you on the mean­ing of .22 cal­i­bre bul­lets fired from close range through res­i­den­tial win­dows fol­low­ing an un­war­ranted break-in by an in­truder who left be­hind all the jew­elry, cash and valu­ables in the house,” he wrote in a let­ter to the Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen. “Per­haps some­body is un­happy that the Boyles are high­light­ing to the pub­lic just how hu­man the Khadrs re­ally are.”

De­spite the gal­lantry, this mar­riage quickly fell apart. In 2011, just a few months af­ter his di­vorce from Khadr was granted, Boyle re­united with Cait­lan Cole­man. They spent a few months in the New Bruns­wick town of Perth-An­dover, where Boyle worked in a call cen­tre and stud­ied Is­lam. They

con­tin­ued to have an ugly re­la­tion­ship.

Nev­er­the­less, ac­cord­ing to the Cit­i­zen, they tied the knot in Cen­tral Amer­ica, then broke up, filed for di­vorce, rec­on­ciled, and left for Asia in 2012. When they left, Cole­man was in her sec­ond trimester of preg­nancy, but that didn’t stop the cou­ple from go­ing to one of the most dan­ger­ous re­gions on earth.

They trav­elled though Kaza­khstan, Ta­jik­istan, and Kyr­gyzs­tan. Th­ese are back­wa­ters that few peo­ple visit. Boyle claimed he was there to write free­lance travel ar­ti­cles for Western me­dia. Cole­man had agreed to go if Boyle promised not to go into Afghanistan. They went to Afghanistan. Boyle gives dif­fer­ing rea­sons for go­ing. He says he wanted to do vol­un­teer aid work yet claims in a court doc­u­ment to have been try­ing to break into jour­nal­ism. In 2012, the Haqqani, a Tal­iban-al­lied group, snatched them from a cab in Kabul. Cole­man was five months preg­nant.

Their cap­tiv­ity was par­tic­u­larly odd. In sworn af­fi­davits that are now part of a court record, Cole­man ac­cuses Boyle of be­ing bru­tal and con­trol­ling, while Boyle says he worked hard and suf­fered much to en­sure his fam­ily sur­vived.

Th­ese kinds of court af­fi­davits should be looked on with some skep­ti­cism. As court doc­u­ments, they are pro­tected from the laws of li­bel, which means an­gry lit­i­gants — and no lit­i­gants are an­grier than fam­ily-law lit­i­gants — can say what they like with­out fear. But they can also be full of ex­ag­ger­a­tion, half-truths, and lies.

The way Cole­man tells it, Boyle phys­i­cally abused her while they were held by the Haqqa­nis. He “reg­u­larly” threat­ened to set her on fire.

But Boyle says Cole­man was al­ways un­sta­ble and ac­cuses her of hoard­ing medicine, which she used in a sui­cide at­tempt. He claims she ne­glected their chil­dren; he, on the other hand, home­schooled the chil­dren, made a small gar­den, and gave up some of his food. He carved wooden toys for them and caught mice that the kids kept as pets.

Ac­cord­ing to Boyle, he did so much for them that his Tal­iban-al­lied cap­tors said he was “both mother and fa­ther.” The Haqqa­nis did not mean this in an ap­prov­ing way.

Boyle says he hit Cole­man just once, af­ter the sui­cide at­tempt.

The Haqqa­nis tried to trade the Boyles for the son of their leader, who had been picked up by the Afghan govern­ment. Those ne­go­ti­a­tions went nowhere — young Si­ra­jud­din Haqqani was a far big­ger prize to the Afghans — so the mil­i­tants be­came more bru­tal. The Boyles’ first baby, Mar­tyr, died be­cause of ill treat­ment, and the kid­nap­pers sex­u­ally as­saulted Cole­man. They forced her to have an abor­tion.

This cru­elty lasted for the next five years in 19 hide­outs in Afghanistan and Pak­istan. When the kid­nap­pers tried to get Boyle to join them, he says he re­fused, hav­ing de­scribed them as “ghetto trash gang­bangers.”

In court fil­ings, Cole­man says Boyle some­how blamed her for their grim sit­u­a­tion, “de­pict­ing me as an enemy in his life.”

“The guards would sep­a­rate us for a few days, weeks, or months at a time,” she says. “When we were re­turned to­gether, J.B. [Boyle] would ac­cuse me of be­tray­ing him by ac­cept­ing niceties from the guards and not ask­ing for him more of­ten,” she says in her court fil­ings.

Things got worse as time went by. Af­ter three years, Cole­man claims, Boyle started beat­ing her fre­quently. She says he broke one of her cheek­bones. Cole­man claims she, not Boyle, home­schooled the chil­dren.

In her af­fi­davit, she strongly sug­gests Boyle and his cap­tors were on the same wave­length and she didn’t share their rad­i­cal ide­ol­ogy. “I would like to stress, most strongly, that for more than a decade, the re­spon­dent [Boyle] has had an in­ter­est in ex­trem­ist ide­olo­gies and in the com­plete sub­servience of women.”

And, she notes, he had been mar­ried to Zaynab Khadr.

But both par­ents suf­fered dur­ing cap­tiv­ity. The Tal­iban’s pro­pa­ganda arm re­leased sev­eral pho­tos and two videos of the fam­ily. Nei­ther par­ent was healthy.

Boyle’s fam­ily in Canada was ap­palled by how he looked. His par­ents and sis­ters didn’t even know how many chil­dren the cou­ple had. They heard men­tion of the “sur­viv­ing” chil­dren and grieved.

One of Boyle’s sis­ters, who was still liv­ing at the fam­ily home in Smiths Falls, wrote to the Toronto Star about “the clank­ing of leg chains shack­led around my brother in that De­cem­ber video … the ter­ri­fy­ing, de­spair­ing blank­ness in his eyes dur­ing a pre­vi­ous video that I now think may have been con­nected to the fact they have the qual­i­fier of ‘sur­viv­ing’ chil­dren.”

Within a year of the re­lease of the sec­ond video, the Boyle-Cole­man fam­ily was res­cued by Pak­istani troops who had been tipped to the move­ments of their cap­tors’ con­voys by U.S. in­tel­li­gence agents. Don­ald Trump told re­porters the res­cue of the Boyles by the Pak­ista­nis, whose in­tel­li­gence ser­vice very likely had shel­tered bin Laden, was a sign of grow­ing trust and co-oper­a­tion be­tween the two sort-of al­lies.

So a Trudeau photo op didn’t seem so out of line. Yet af­ter the meet­ing on De­cem­ber 19, Trudeau was scolded on­line for do­ing a selfie with this mys­te­ri­ous fam­ily of du­bi­ous loy­al­ties. Then things got worse. On De­cem­ber 30, Boyle was ar­rested for a half-dozen charges, in­clud­ing as­sault and try­ing to drug a vic­tim with the an­tide­pres­sant Tra­zodone. (The names of the al­leged vic­tims are shielded by a court or­der.) Later that year, Cole­man, who was preg­nant again, won in­terim cus­tody of the chil­dren and took them to Penn­syl­va­nia.

Boyle was re­leased from jail in June and faces trial in March.

In the end, the story of the Boyles and their years of cap­tiv­ity was writ­ten up on Wikipedia. Some of the writ­ing was done by some­one writ­ing un­der the name “JoshuaBoyleIsAwe­some.” Even­tu­ally, “TheCel­lu­loid­void” took over.

Like the Boyle story, the Wikipedia en­try has mor­phed over the years. And, like the Wikipedia en­try, the Boyle fam­ily story may al­ways have se­ri­ous holes in it.

Ot­tawa lawyer Mark Bourrie’s lat­est book is The Killing Game: Mar­tyr­dom, Mur­der and the Lure of ISIS

“I would like to stress, most strongly, that for more than a decade, [Boyle] has had an in­ter­est in ex­trem­ist ide­olo­gies and in the com­plete sub­servience of women.” cait­lan cole­man

Cu­ri­ous cou­ple Shortly af­ter Joshua Boyle, Cait­lan Cole­man, and their three chil­dren re­turned to Canada, the fam­ily met with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. Cole­man and Boyle are now sep­a­rated af­ter she won in­terim cus­tody of their chil­dren and re­turned to live in Penn­syl­va­nia

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