Ter­ror­ist-held Amer­i­can, fam­ily free af­ter five years

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Jill Colvin, Lolita C. Baldor, Munir Ahmed, Matthew Lee, Deb Riech­mann, Rob Gil­lies and Jon Gam­brell of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by Adam Gold­man of The New York Times.

WASH­ING­TON — Five years af­ter be­ing taken hostage in Afghanistan, an Amer­i­can wo­man and her Cana­dian hus­band, along with their three chil­dren — all three born in cap­tiv­ity — are free af­ter a dra­matic res­cue or­ches­trated by the U.S. and Pak­istani gov­ern­ments, of­fi­cials said Thurs­day.

U.S. of­fi­cials said Pak­istan ac­com­plished the re­lease of Cait­lan Cole­man of Ste­wart­stown, Pa., and her hus­band, Joshua Boyle, who were ab­ducted and held by the Haqqani net­work, which has ties to the Tal­iban. Their free­dom, which came af­ter years of U.S. pres­sure on Pak­istan for as­sis­tance, un­folded quickly and ended with what some de­scribed as a dan­ger­ous raid, a shootout and a cap­tor’s fi­nal, ter­ri­fy­ing threat to “kill the hostage.” The fam­ily is safe with Boyle re­ceiv­ing only a shrap­nel wound, his fam­ily said.

Cole­man and Boyle were kid­napped in Oc­to­ber of 2012 while on a back­pack­ing trip that took them to Rus­sia, the coun­tries of Kaza­khstan, Ta­jik­istan and Kyr­gyzs­tan, and then to Afghanistan. Cole­man was sev­eral months preg­nant at the time.

“To­day they are free,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump

said Thurs­day in a state­ment, cred­it­ing the U.S. govern­ment with se­cur­ing the re­lease “work­ing in con­junc­tion with the govern­ment of Pak­istan.”

Trump later praised Pak­istan, say­ing “The Pak­istani govern­ment’s co­op­er­a­tion is a sign that it is hon­or­ing Amer­ica’s wishes for it to do more to pro­vide se­cu­rity in the re­gion. We hope to see this type of co­op­er­a­tion and team­work in help­ing se­cure the re­lease of re­main­ing hostages and in our fu­ture joint coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions.”

Boyle and the high com­mis­sioner for Pak­istan to Canada re­lated har­row­ing cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the fam­ily’s res­cue from cap­tors.

They de­scribed gun­shots ring­ing out as Pak­istani forces in­ter­cepted the cap­tors’ car in which Boyle, his wife and their chil­dren were be­ing trans­ported in the trunk.

Boyle told his par­ents that there’d been a shootout and that the last words he’d heard from the kid­nap­pers were, “kill the hostage,” his fa­ther, Pa­trick told The Toronto Star af­ter speak­ing with his son. Three in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said the con­fronta­tion hap­pened near a road cross­ing in the Nawa Kili area of the district of Ko­hat in north­west Pak­istan.

The high com­mis­sioner, Tariq Azim Khan, said, “We know there was a shootout, and Pak­istan com­man­dos car­ried out an at­tack and res­cued the hostages.”

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary said early Thurs­day that the cou­ple and their chil­dren were “be­ing repa­tri­ated to the coun­try of their ori­gin.”

But as of mid­day Thurs­day, the fam­ily’s pre­cise where­abouts was un­clear, and it was not im­me­di­ately known when the fam­ily would re­turn to North Amer­ica. The fam­ily was not in U.S. cus­tody, and the cou­ple and their chil­dren were to­gether in a safe, undis­closed lo­ca­tion in Pak­istan, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial, who wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the case pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

A U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said that a mil­i­tary hostage team had flown Wed­nes­day to Pak­istan, pre­pared to fly the fam­ily out. The team did a pre­lim­i­nary health as­sess­ment of the fam­ily and had a trans­port plane ready to go. But some­time af­ter day­break there, as the fam­ily mem­bers were walk­ing to the plane, Boyle said he did not want to get aboard.

Boyle’s fa­ther said his son did not want to board the plane be­cause it was headed to Ba­gram Air Base, a site as­so­ci­ated with ac­cu­sa­tions of pris­oner abuse, and Boyle was philo­soph­i­cally op­posed to go­ing there. An­other U.S. of­fi­cial said Boyle was ner­vous about be­ing in “cus­tody” given his past fam­ily ties.

He was once mar­ried to Zaynab Khadr, the older sis­ter of for­mer Guan­tanamo Bay de­tainee Omar Khadr and the daugh­ter of a se­nior al-Qaida fi­nancier. Her fa­ther, the late Ahmed Said Khadr, and the fam­ily stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.

The Cana­dian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was cap­tured by U.S. troops fol­low­ing a fire­fight and was taken to the U.S. de­ten­tion cen­ter at Guan­tanamo Bay. Of­fi­cials had dis­counted any link between that back­ground and Boyle’s cap­ture, with one of­fi­cial de­scrib­ing it in 2014 as a “hor­ri­ble co­in­ci­dence.”

The U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment said nei­ther Boyle nor Cole­man are not wanted for any fed­eral crime.

The cou­ple told U.S. of­fi­cials and their fam­i­lies they wanted to fly com­mer­cially to Canada.

The mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said the cou­ple and their chil­dren are still in Pak­istan, and there are on­go­ing dis­cus­sions about how and when they will leave. The of­fi­cial said the U.S. is still pre­pared to fly the cou­ple and their chil­dren out of Pak­istan if that is their choice.

Boyle’s fa­ther called the res­cue a “mir­a­cle.” Cole­man’s par­ents, Jim and Lyn Cole­man, mean­while, posted a state­ment on the door of their Penn­syl­va­nia home ex­press­ing joy. Dur­ing an in­ter­view with ABC News, Lyn Cole­man said “I am in a state of eu­pho­ria, stunned and over­joyed.”

On Wed­nes­day night, Trump al­luded to the fam­ily’s im­pend­ing re­lease. “Amer­ica is be­ing re­spected again,” the pres­i­dent said in a speech on his tax plan in Har­ris­burg, Pa. “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.”

He echoed those com­ments Thurs­day, this time men­tion­ing Pak­istan by name and say­ing the fam­ily’s re­lease showed that the coun­try was “start­ing to re­spect the United States again.”

Pak­istan’s re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. has been rocky. The U.S. has long ac­cused its mil­i­tary and its in­tel­li­gence agency of har­bor­ing or ig­nor­ing mil­i­tants, and re­la­tions have grown in­creas­ingly strained over Pak­istan’s role in Afghanistan.

In a state­ment about the hostage re­lease, the Pak­istani army said: “The suc­cess un­der­scores the im­por­tance of timely in­tel­li­gence shar­ing and Pak­istan’s con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to­wards fight­ing this men­ace through co­op­er­a­tion between two forces against a com­mon en­emy.”

The re­lease came to­gether rapidly Wed­nes­day. It hap­pened nearly five years af­ter Cole­man and Boyle lost touch with their fam­i­lies while trav­el­ing in a moun­tain­ous re­gion near the Afghan cap­i­tal, Kabul.

Cole­man’s par­ents last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an In­ter­net cafe in what Boyle de­scribed as an “un­safe” part of Afghanistan.

The only trace of the cou­ple since has been in the form

Boyle’s fa­ther said his son did not want to board the plane be­cause it was headed to Ba­gram Air Base, a site as­so­ci­ated with ac­cu­sa­tions of pris­oner abuse, and Boyle was philo­soph­i­cally op­posed to go­ing there.

of videos re­leased by their cap­tors and fam­ily let­ters.

Cole­man’s par­ents told the on­line Circa News ser­vice in July 2016 that they re­ceived a let­ter from their daugh­ter in Novem­ber 2015, in which she wrote that she’d given birth to a sec­ond child in cap­tiv­ity. It’s un­clear whether they knew she’d had a third child.

“I pray to hear from you again, to hear how ev­ery­body is do­ing,” the let­ter read.

Boyle’s par­ents say their son told them in a let­ter that he and his wife tried to pro­tect the chil­dren by pre­tend­ing their signs of cap­tiv­ity were part of a game be­ing played with guards.

Ear­lier at­tempts to get the fam­ily re­leased fell short. In Jan­uary 2016, Colin Ruther­ford, a Cana­dian, was freed af­ter Qatar ar­ranged a pris­oner swap with the Afghan govern­ment. Of­fi­cials had hoped Ruther­ford’s re­lease would be the first in a se­ries of releases that would in­clude Cole­man and her fam­ily.

But that never ma­te­ri­al­ized, for rea­sons that re­main un­clear. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion sought to jump-start talks with the Tal­iban, but those ef­forts fal­tered af­ter the U.S. mil­i­tary killed Mul­lah Akhtar Muham­mad Man­sour, the Tal­iban’s leader, in a drone strike in May 2016.

U.S. of­fi­cials call the Haqqani group a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and has tar­geted its lead­ers with drone strikes. But the group also op­er­ates like a crim­i­nal net­work. Un­like the Is­lamic State group, it does not typ­i­cally ex­e­cute Western hostages, pre­fer­ring to hold them for ran­som.

The U.S. has long crit­i­cized Pak­istan for fail­ing to ag­gres­sively go af­ter the Haqqa­nis. In re­cent re­marks on his Afghanistan pol­icy, Trump noted bil­lions paid to Pak­istan “at the same time they are hous­ing the very ter­ror­ists that we are fight­ing. But that will have to change, and that will change im­me­di­ately.”

In his state­ment Thurs­day, Trump de­scribed the re­lease as “a pos­i­tive mo­ment for our coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan.”

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, speak­ing dur­ing a visit to Mex­ico on Thurs­day, thanked Canada’s al­lies around the globe for their work in free­ing the fam­ily.

“We’re pleased that the or­deal that they’ve been through th­ese past years has fi­nally come to an end,” he said.

AP/Tal­iban Me­dia

Caitlin Cole­man and her hus­band Joshua Boyle, shown with two of their chil­dren in an im­age re­leased by the Tal­iban in De­cem­ber, ap­par­ently were freed from their Afghan cap­tors by Pak­istani com­man­dos.

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