Fam­ily freed af­ter five years of cap­tiv­ity by ter­ror­ist net­work

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - COLIN FREEZE MICHELLE ZILIO

Af­ter five har­row­ing years, Joshua Boyle and Cait­lan Cole­man – and their three chil­dren born in cap­tiv­ity – have been freed from the grasp of Tal­iban-af­fil­i­ated mil­i­tants.

The Cana­dian man, 34, and his Amer­i­can wife, 31, were new­ly­weds when they dis­ap­peared while trav­el­ling into Afghanistan in 2012, trig­ger­ing a long-run­ning ef­fort by Canada and the United States to free the fam­ily from the Haqqani net­work. That ef­fort came to a sud­den and suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion on Thurs­day, al­though there are con­flict­ing ac­counts as to whether their free­dom was se­cured by a ne­go­ti­ated han­dover or by a shootout at the Afghan-Pak­istani bor­der.

In a brief state­ment to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Boyle’s fa­ther said he is still wait­ing for his son to re­turn to Canada. “We are still try­ing to sort out a very com­plex sit­u­a­tion,” said Pa­trick Boyle, a Fed­eral Court of Canada judge based near Ottawa.

The cou­ple have two sons, ages 2 and 4, and a daugh­ter, who was born within the past few weeks.

Mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ments claimed credit for help­ing achieve their re­lease, while giv­ing vague and, at times, con­flict­ing ex­pla­na­tions.

Pak­istani gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials claimed their mil­i­tary acted on a tip re­layed by U.S. in­tel­li­gence – one that al­lowed them to in­ter­cept the “ter­ror­ist” ab­duc­tors and their cap­tives af­ter their car crossed from Afghanistan to Pak­istan. The coun­try’s high com­mis­sioner to Ottawa said a fire­fight led to their free­dom.

» White House of­fi­cials did not men­tion any specifics about a shootout in their pub­lic state­ments.

Mean­time, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump claimed his new­found clout with Pak­istan had led to the hostage re­lease, while his chief of staff, John Kelly, was am­bigu­ous, say­ing only that his gov­ern­ment and Pak­istan worked to­gether as “part­ners.”

“Thank God that the Pak­istani of­fi­cials have – took them into cus­tody, so to speak, from the forces of evil in that part of the world,” he said.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment said Canada helped achieve a res­o­lu­tion. “Canada has been ex­tremely ac­tively en­gaged in this case for the past five years,” For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land told re­porters in Mex­ico City, where she was en­gaged in free-trade ne­go­ti­a­tions. She added: “No ran­som was paid. Canada has been very clear that we do not be­lieve in pay­ing ran­soms.”

The Haqqani net­work is for­mally des­ig­nated in the United States and Canada as a ter­ror­ist group – an overt dec­la­ra­tion that any di­rect deal­ings with the group ought to be con­sid­ered off the ta­ble for any­one in North Amer­ica. Such des­ig­na­tions ex­ist to help fed­eral of­fi­cials seize as­sets, or fa­cil­i­tate fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions against any­one who helps the group in any ma­te­rial way.

A no­to­ri­ous and pow­er­ful clan of armed mil­i­tants, the Haqqani net­work has footholds on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der. Formed dur­ing the 1980s Afghan fight against the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion, the Haqqa­nis aligned with the Tal­iban as it took over Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The group has close ties to Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence, ac­cord­ing to se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

Late Thurs­day, the Associated Press re­ported that Mr. Boyle re­fused to board a U.S. trans­port plane out­bound from Pak­istan, for fear he would be taken into cus­tody by the U.S. gov­ern­ment for his past con­nec­tion to a no­to­ri­ous Cana­dian fam­ily.

In the late 2000s, Mr. Boyle was mar­ried to Zaynab Khadr, the sis­ter of Omar Khadr, a Cana­dian cit­i­zen held in Guan­tanamo Bay for more than a decade. The cou­ple di­vorced in 2010.

Mr. Boyle’s hes­i­ta­tion to board a U.S. plane amounted to a last­minute wrin­kle in a saga that has been play­ing out be­hind the scenes for half a decade as mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ments have grap­pled with pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

In 2013, a Pen­tagon group headed by a for­mer spe­cial forces of­fi­cer, Ja­son Amer­ine, was as­signed to de­velop op­tions to free a cap­tive Amer­i­can sol­dier.

That sol­dier was freed in an ap­par­ent pris­oner swap with the Tal­iban. But Mr. Amer­ine has since gone pub­lic with an ac­count of how his mis­sion had once mor­phed into talk of a “one-for-seven” deal that would have swapped seven Western­ers for one Tal­iban war­lord.

Mr. Boyle, Ms. Cole­man and an­other Cana­dian were part of these ne­go­ti­a­tions, Mr. Amer­ine has said. So was an­other Cana­dian – Colin Ruther­ford – who was cap­tured in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances to Mr. Boyle’s be­fore be­ing re­leased in 2016. At the time, the newly elected Lib­eral gov­ern­ment thanked Qatar for bro­ker­ing a deal.

On Thurs­day, Pa­trick Boyle told the Toronto Star he re­ceived a phone call from his son af­ter his re­lease. Joshua Boyle re­layed that he and his fam­ily were freed while trav­el­ling in the trunk of a car driven by his ab­duc­tors. He says he heard gun­shots as the ab­duc­tors were killed in a shootout with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary.

Speak­ing to The Globe and Mail on Thurs­day, Pak­istan’s High Com­mis­sioner to Canada, Tariq Azim Khan, also said the res­cue ef­fort in­volved a shootout. “With­out know­ing the full de­tails, I un­der­stand there was an op­er­a­tion and there was a shoot­ing. … How many of them were killed? I’m not aware at the moment,” Mr. Khan said.

REUTERS

A still from a video posted by the Tal­iban on so­cial me­dia on Dec. 19, 2016, shows Amer­i­can Cait­lan Cole­man, left, speak­ing next to her Cana­dian hus­band, Joshua Boyle, and their two sons. The cou­ple has since had a daugh­ter who was born within the past few weeks.

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