Pak­istan raid frees fam­ily held cap­tive for five years

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Ashifa Kas­sam Toronto Amanda Holpuch New York Ha­roon Jan­jua Is­lam­abad

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

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