COM­ING HOME

‘Kill the hostages.’ Th­ese are the last words Cana­dian Joshua Boyle said he heard be­fore a Pak­istani res­cue mis­sion ended his fam­ily’s five-year Tal­iban night­mare. A day later, came a phone call: ‘Hi, Josh. How are you? It’s Dad. Are you OK?’

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE -

SMITHS FALLS, ONT.— Af­ter five years of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with his fam­ily only through hostage videos and care­fully writ­ten let­ters, Joshua Boyle spoke freely to his par­ents from a guest house in Pak­istan.

They talked of the pass­ports his young fam­ily needed, the flights they could take and their long-awaited re­union that could come as early as Fri­day af­ter­noon.

“My fam­ily is ob­vi­ously psy­cho­log­i­cally and phys­i­cally shat­tered by the be­tray­als and the crim­i­nal­ity of what has hap­pened over the past five years,” Boyle told the Star dur­ing a call from Islamabad to his par­ents, Pa­trick and Linda.

It was a mo­ment of calm for the Boyles — be­ing able to hear their son’s voice, to lis­ten to him laugh and at one point nearly cry — in what had been an emo­tional day marked by re­lief, anx­i­ety and an­tic­i­pa­tion.

“But we’re look­ing for­ward to a new lease on life, to use an overused id­iom, and restart­ing and be­ing able to build a sanc­tu­ary for our chil­dren and our fam­ily in North Amer­ica,” Boyle told us as we sat lis­ten­ing around the din­ing room ta­ble.

Then he added, with a laugh: “I have dis­cov­ered there is lit­tle that can­not be over­come by enough Sufi pa­tience, Ir­ish ir­rev­er­ence and Cana­dian sanc­ti­mony.”

Boyle, 34, his Amer­i­can wife, Cait­lan Cole­man, 31, and their chil­dren were freed Wed­nes­day af­ter a dra­matic res­cue by the Pak­istani Army, based on in­tel­li­gence pro­vided by the U.S.

Boyle told his par­ents in a phone call ear­lier Thurs­day that they had been in the trunk of the kid­nap­pers’ car dur­ing the res­cue and the Pak­istani forces had shot dead five of the cap­tors.

He later told the Star that some of the kid­nap­pers had es­caped and he wanted to en­sure they were caught and charged for their crimes.

The Tal­iban-linked Haqqani net­work has held the cou­ple since 2012 and their two sons, age 4 and 2, and a two-month-old daugh­ter were all born in cap­tiv­ity.

For five years, since Boyle and Cole­man were kid­napped while on a back­pack­ing trip in Afghanistan, their fam­i­lies have prayed for this day.

It be­gan Wed­nes­day.

Cana­dian govern­ment of­fi­cials emailed the fam­ily at 12:56 p.m. Wed­nes­day and asked them to gather at their Smith Falls home.

“First and fore­most, no bad news,” Jen­nifer Kle­niewski, the head of Global Af­fairs Canada hostage team wrote.

But min­utes later the meet­ing was can­celled. The Boyles didn’t know what to think but it was im­pos­si­ble to not get their hopes up.

There had been here so any times be­fore, so many heart­break­ing near misses — ne­go­ti­a­tions that seemed promis­ing but then fell apart.

At 4 p.m., they had their reg­u­larly sched­uled weekly call with govern­ment of­fi­cials. Noth­ing new was dis­cussed. Of­fi­cials told the Boyles there had just been some mixed sig­nals.

That wasn’t un­usual — there were al­ways ru­mours and er­ro­neous re­ports that needed to be tracked down.

But still, Pa­trick, Linda and Josh’s sib­lings hoped a deal was qui­etly un­der­way and they just couldn’t be brought into the loop yet.

It wouldn’t be un­til nine hours later, at1a.m. Thurs­day that the phone rang. “We’ll be there in five min­utes,” Kle­niewski said.

“They couldn’t help but smile and just nod­ded their heads,” Linda Boyle said about the Cana­dian of­fi­cials who knocked on their door mo­ments later. “I just gave them a big hug.” The fam­ily was freed. All five were safe. It was not a deal. It was not re­lease. It was a res­cue. Linda cried. She’s not the one who usu­ally cries — that’s the joke with her and her hus­band, a fed­eral tax court judge, who on mat­ters con­cern­ing their chil­dren is usu­ally the first to break.

They called se­cu­rity con­sul­tant Andy Ellis, a re­tired mem­ber of the Cana­dian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, who the Boyles had hired ear­lier this year to help them nav­i­gate the po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity labyrinth that rel­a­tives of hostages must ne­go­ti­ate.

"We’re look­ing for­ward to a new lease on life, to use an overused id­iom, and restart­ing and be­ing able to build a sanc­tu­ary for our chil­dren and our fam­ily in North Amer­ica" JOSHUA BOYLE

But the cel­e­bra­tion was short lived, as just 10 min­utes later the Cana­dian of­fi­cials were back in their din­ing room.

There was a prob­lem. Josh Boyle did not want to get on a U.S. flight.

They asked Linda and Pa­trick if they could they talk to their son. They would ar­range a call.

At 1:40 a.m. Thurs­day, they spoke to Josh.

“Josh said he was do­ing pretty well for some­one who has spent the last five years in an un­der­ground prison,” Pa­trick Boyle told me about the con­ver­sa­tion with his son.

Josh Boyle talked about be­ing in the trunk of the kid­nap­pers’ car and in what he called a shootout. He said the last words they heard from the kid­nap­pers were “kill the hostages.”

He said he didn’t want to board an Amer­i­can flight to the U.S. base in Ba­gram, Afghanistan, and asked if they could be taken in­stead to the Cana­dian High Com­mis­sion in Islamabad, Pak­istan.

That didn’t sur­prise his par­ents. Boyle had been a staunch civil rights ad­vo­cate and critic of the se­cu­rity mea­sures that were im­ple­mented af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks. It was through this ad­vo­cacy that he heard about for­mer Guan­tanamo Bay de­tainee Omar Khadr. He was briefly mar­ried to Khadr’s con­tro­ver­sial and out­spo­ken sis­ter Zaynab, who the RCMP once in­ves­ti­gated for ter­ror­ism of­fences.

Cana­dian and U.S. of­fi­cials have dis­missed any con­nec­tion of his kid­nap­ping with his in­volve­ment with the Khadr fam­ily. As dawn broke Thurs­day, the Boyles’ home filled with peo­ple and boxes of dough­nuts. Ellis ar­rived. As did Linda’s sis­ter, Kelli O’Brien, who had launched a so­cial me­dia cam­paign to make sure Boyle, Cole­man and their kids were not for­got­ten.

Josh’s sis­ters Kaeryn and Heather pre­pared the up­stairs room — al­ready filled with quilts, toys and a Maple Leafs jer­sey — for their two neph­ews and niece. Dan, Josh’s brother, kept an eye on the me­dia gath­er­ing on the side­walk. The din­ing room be­came a war room with cell­phones ring­ing and ping­ing, and lap­tops open, wait­ing for news.

Pak­istan’s govern­ment is­sued a press re­lease, con­firm­ing that it was “an in­tel­li­gence-based op­er­a­tion by Pak­istan troops and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.”

The state­ment said U.S. agen­cies had been track­ing the fam­ily and kid­nap­pers as they crossed into the Kur­ram Agency, on the border with Afghanistan. The res­cue was based “on ac­tion­able in­tel­li­gence from U.S. au­thor­i­ties,” the state­ment said.

“The suc­cess un­der­scores the im­por­tance of timely in­tel­li­gence shar­ing and Pak­istan’s con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to­wards fight­ing this men­ace through co-op­er­a­tion between two forces against a com­mon en­emy.”

The Pak­istan press re­lease ap­pears to sup­port what U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump al­luded to in a speech Wed­nes­day in Cole­man’s home state of Penn­syl­va­nia. “Some­thing hap­pened to­day, where a coun­try that to­tally dis­re­spected us called with some very, very im­por­tant news,” Trump said. “And one of my gen­er­als came in. They said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would’ve never done that.’ It was a great sign of re­spect. You’ll prob­a­bly be hear­ing about it over the next few days. But this is a coun­try that did not re­spect us. This is a coun­try that re­spects us now. The world is start­ing to re­spect us again, be­lieve me.”

In a Thurs­day morn­ing state­ment, the White House called the res­cue, “a pos­i­tive mo­ment in our coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan.”

The Haqqani net­work is a pow­er­ful Afghan group with a his­tory of tak­ing and hold­ing Western hostages. On Aug. 29, 2016, an Afghan court sen­tenced to death Anas Haqqani, the son of the group’s founder. In a YouTube video re­leased around that time, Boyle told the Afghan govern­ment that if it does not stop ex­e­cut­ing Tal­iban pris­on­ers, his fam­ily would be killed. He ap­peared to be read­ing from a script.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions about the fam­ily’s re­lease al­ways in­volved what the Haqqani’s re­garded as a “pris­oner swap.” Their high­est pro­file cap­tive was U.S. sol­dier Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for nearly five years be­fore be­ing freed in May 2014, in re­turn for five Tal­iban de­tainees held in Guan­tanamo Bay.

“Afghanistan was never go­ing to re­lease Anas Haqqani be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal cost,” said New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion’s Peter Ber­gen. “At the same time the Haqqa­nis were never go­ing to harm the hostages be­cause they wanted their brother back. So that’s the equi­lib­rium that it set­tled into.”

Hostage res­cues, how­ever, al­most al­ways end in tragedy.

Phone calls came from around the world all day Thurs­day at the Boyle’s home. CNN, BBC and Pak­istan’s High Com­mis­sioner in Ottawa, whom Linda and Pa­trick had met re­peat­edly, emailed con­grat­u­la­tions.

A morn­ing of sen­sa­tional news turned into an af­ter­noon of wait­ing.

One of Josh’s sis­ters took their pet Labradoo­dle to the groomer for an ap­point­ment. Some­one bought sand­wiches. Linda won­dered if she should keep her den­tal surgery for Fri­day morn­ing and later went out to buy three chil­dren’s car seats — as­ton­ished at how the cost had gone up since her five chil­dren needed them.

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land, who was trav­el­ling with the prime min­ster on a visit to Mex­ico City Thurs­day, is­sued a state­ment ex­press­ing grat­i­tude for the res­cue.

“Canada has been ac­tively en­gaged with the gov­ern­ments of the United States, Afghanistan and Pak­istan and we thank them for their ef­forts, which have re­sulted in the re­lease of Joshua, Cait­lan and their chil­dren,” Free­land said in the state­ment.

“Joshua, Cait­lan, their chil­dren and the Boyle and Cole­man fam­i­lies have en­dured a hor­ri­ble or­deal over the past five years. We stand ready to sup­port them as they be­gin their heal­ing jour­ney.”

The Boyles kept in touch by phone and email with Cana­dian of­fi­cials through­out the af­ter­noon.

Then came the sec­ond call of the day to Josh. It was af­ter mid­night Thurs­day in Pak­istan. Caity and her three chil­dren slept.

Pa­trick Boyle be­gan: “Hi Josh. How are you? It’s dad. Are you OK?”

MICHELLE SHEP­HARD/TORONTO STAR

Pa­trick Boyle, his wife Linda and se­cu­rity con­sul­tant Andy Ellis talk to Cana­dian and U.S. of­fi­cials about the re­lease of Joshua Boyle, his wife Cait­lan Cole­man and their chil­dren, pic­tured above in a hostage video. The cou­ple had been held for five years by the Haqqani net­work. Their three kids were born in cap­tiv­ity.

JUNE 5, 2015 The Tal­iban’s re­lease of U.S. army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl brings hope for cou­ple’s free­dom.

JULY 26, 2014 For the first time in the 21 months since be­ing taken hostage, Joshua Boyle’s fam­ily speaks out.

OCT. 7, 2017 Just a week be­fore the res­cue, the Boyles de­scribe life in limbo as the fifth an­niver­sary of their son’s cap­tiv­ity ap­proaches.

JAN. 1, 2013 Boyle’s par­ents go pub­lic for the first time with their fears Cole­man and Boyle have been kid­napped dur­ing a trip to Afghanistan.

Michelle Shep­hard

RANDY RISLING/TORONTO STAR

Linda and Pa­trick Boyle in their Smith Falls, Ont. home await­ing the ar­rival of their son, daugh­ter-in-law and three grand­chil­dren who were res­cued by the Pak­istani army on Wed­nes­day.

At left, Joshua Boyle’s sis­ter sits with their fam­ily dog and a crib in prepa­ra­tion for her 2-month-old niece to come home. At right, the room in the Boyles’ Smith Falls, Ont., home that has been set up for the re­turn of Joshua Boyle’s three chil­dren, born in cap­tiv­ity.

Mom and dad tell of the mo­ment they learned their boy was free. ‘That’s the first time in five years we got to hear his voice.’ thes­tar.com > WATCH THE VIDEO

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