Pakistan raid frees family held captive for five years
Nearly five years to the day after they were captured by militants linked to the Taliban, an American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children – all of whom were born in captivity – have been rescued, bringing an end to an ordeal the couple once described as a “Kafkaesque nightmare”.
Pakistani troops, operating on intelligence provided by the United States, rescued Caitlan Coleman, Joshua Boyle and their children, after locating them in the mountainous Kurram Valley region that borders Afghanistan.
“Today they are free,” said President Trump yesterday in a statement confirming their release.
The couple was kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012 and were believed to be held by the Haqqani network, a group deemed a terrorist organisation by the US.
Boyle’s family said they had received a call from their son early yesterday morning, the first time in five years they had been able to speak to him.
“Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison,” Patrick Boyle told the Toronto Star. His son also told him that he and Coleman had had a third baby – a little girl – who was born two months ago.
Boyle told his father that the rescue operation had taken place while the family were locked in the trunk of a car. The last words Boyle heard were “kill the hostages” before a shootout erupted.
The five kidnappers were shot dead and Boyle was injured by shrapnel, his father told the Star. The family remain in Pakistan and are preparing to return to North America in the coming days.
The Colemans said the FBI had notified the family of the rescue. “The US government called us Wednesday afternoon,” Jim Coleman, Caitlan’s father, told ABC News. “They told me to sit down and then they told me what had happened. All they told me was that they were in ‘friendly hands.’”
“I am in a state of euphoria, stunned and overjoyed,” added Lyn Coleman, Caitlan’s mother. “Caity and her family’s nightmare is finally over.”
In a statement, the Pakistan military said that US intelligence officials had been tracking the family’s location and had alerted the government after the couple were moved into the Kurram Valley.
“All hostages were recovered safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin,” it added.
A senior intelligence official in Islamabad told the Guardian the Haqqani network had demanded a ransom of 15m rupees (£175,000) and the release of captives from Afghanistan in exchange for the family’s release. While the source said the ransom was not paid, it was unclear whether other concessions were made.
The rescue comes 10 months after the couple’s captors released a video showing Boyle, now 34, Coleman, 31, and their two children, pleading with their governments to negotiate with their captors.
“We can only ask and pray that somebody will recognise the atrocities these men carry out against us as so-called retaliation, in their ingratitude and hypocrisy,” Coleman told the camera, appearing to read from prepared remarks. “My children have seen their mother defiled.”
She described their years-long ordeal as “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves”. The couple – who met as teenagers online and bonded over their love of Star Wars fan sites – were abducted in 2012 during a backpacking trip that began in Russia and took them through Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before their arrival in northern Afghanistan. Coleman, from Pennsylvania, was pregnant with their first child at the time.
Coleman’s parents said they had last heard from their son-in-law in 2012, when he contacted them from an internet cafe in what he described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.
In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos pleading with the US government to free them from the Taliban. Coleman’s parents later told reporters they had received a letter in which their daughter said she had given birth to a second child.
A letter sent to Boyle’s parents and shared with the Toronto Star last year detailed the lengths the couple claimed they had gone to in order to deliver the child; hiding the pregnancy from captors until Boyle delivered the child in the darkness, guided only by a flashlight clenched between his teeth.
“The astonished captors were good and brought all our postpartum needs, so he is now fat and healthy, praise God,” Boyle wrote in the letter to his parents. “We are trying to keep spirits high for the children and play Beautiful Life,” he added, believed to be a reference to Life is Beautiful, the Italian film in which a father shields his son from the realities of a Nazi concentration camp by pretending they are in a game.
In the years prior to his capture, Boyle, from Ontario, was a familiar figure to reporters in Canada. He had been married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Omar Khadr, the Canadian held for 10 years at Guantánamo Bay after being captured as a teenager during a firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan.
Boyle soon became a spokesperson of sorts for the Khadr family, helping Zaynab in her push to raise awareness of her brother’s case. In a 2009 interview, Boyle detailed his fascination with terrorism, counterterrorism and security. “Anything related to terrorism on Wikipedia, I wrote, pretty much,” he told the Globe and Mail. The marriage lasted about a year.
It was not immediately clear yesterday when they would return to North America. The family was in a safe, undisclosed location in Pakistan, a US national security official told Associated Press.
US officials had planned to move the family out of Pakistan on a US transport plane, but at the last minute Boyle would not get on, the official said. Another US official said Boyle was nervous about being in “custody” given his background.
Yesterday, Donald Trump heralded the rescue as a “positive moment” for the relationship between US and Pakistan. “The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wish that it do more to provide security in the region,” he said at a White House event. “They worked very hard on this and I believe they are starting to respect the United States again.”
Trump had seemingly hinted at the impending rescue on Wednesday. “America is being respected again,” the president told an audience in Pennsylvania. “Something happened today where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news. And one of my generals came in, they said, you know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would have never done that. It was a great sign of respect. You’ll probably be hearing about it over the next few days.”
US officials have long accused Pakistan’s military and intelligence services of providing cover for militants and criticised them for not doing enough to crackdown on the Haqqani network, believed to be responsible for several attacks against the US and allied forces in Afghanistan. Canada said it had also been engaged with the governments of the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan and thanked them for their efforts in securing the family’s release.
“We are greatly relieved that after being held hostage for five years, Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman, as well as their young children, have been released and are safe,” the country’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said in a 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.”
‘[Josh] was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison’
Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle photographed before they were kidnapped by militants linked to the Taliban in 2012