Cou­ple freed af­ter years as hostages to Tal­iban-linked crim­i­nals

Mys­tery sur­rounds cap­ture, im­pris­on­ment

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - By Aubrey Whe­lan

STE­WART­STOWN, Pa. — The last time any­one heard from Cait­lan Cole­man, the York County na­tive spoke of the “Kafkaesque night­mare” she and her hus­band, Joshua Boyle, had been trapped in for nearly five years.

The cou­ple was kid­napped in Afghanistan in 2012 and held in Pak­istan by a crim­i­nal net­work linked to the Tal­iban. Through the years, videos and let­ters trick­led out from their cap­tors: Ms. Cole­man and Mr. Boyle beg­ging for free­dom and for “money, power and friends” for the Haqqani net­work hold­ing them pris­oner.

In the last, chilling video, re­leased in De­cem­ber, two of the cou­ple’s chil­dren, both born in cap­tiv­ity, ap­peared on screen. “My chil­dren have seen their mother de­filed,” Ms. Cole­man read from a script.

On Thurs­day, the fam­ily — in­clud­ing a third child, born since the video's re­lease — was free, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. and Pak­istani gov­ern­ments.

Their res­cue likely was to fi­nally lead to some res­o­lu­tion of the mys­tery sur­round­ing their cap­ture and ex­tended im­pris­on­ment. Nearly two dozen West­ern­ers are be­lieved to be de­tained by Tal­iban af­fil­i­ates, although the cou­ple's plight had been among the most chron­i­cled.

De­tails on their res­cue were scant Thurs­day. Ms. Cole­man, of Ste­wart­stown, and Mr. Boyle, the son of a Cana­dian judge, and their chil­dren — two boys and a girl — were re­port­edly at the U.S. Em­bassy in Pak­istan. It wasn’t clear when they would re­turn to the United States.

“They’ve been es­sen­tially liv­ing in a hole for five years,” White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said in a press briefing. “Thank God that the Pak­istani of­fi­cials took them into cus­tody, so to speak, from the forces of evil in that part of the world and they’re be­ing taken care of as we speak.”

Ms. Cole­man’s par­ents placed a note on their front door Thurs­day af­ter­noon ask­ing for pri­vacy as they “make plans for the fu­ture.” They called the re­lease of the cou­ple and the chil­dren “joy­ous news.”

Joshua Boyle told his par­ents Thurs­day morn­ing that he was in the trunk of the kid­nap­pers' car with his wife and chil­dren when Pak­istani forces opened fire, killing five mil­i­tants and res­cu­ing the fam­ily, the Toronto Star re­ported. Mr. Boyle said the last words he heard from the kid­nap­pers was “kill the hostages,” the news­pa­per said.

In a video state­ment pro­vided to the Star, Mr. Boyle’s par­ents said they had spo­ken with their son in the predawn hours on Thurs­day and that he had told them how much his chil­dren were look­ing for­ward to meet­ing their grand­par­ents. They gave their “pro­found thanks” to Amer­i­can, Cana­dian and Pak­istani of­fi­cials who worked to free their son and daugh­ter-in-law, and to the Pak­istani sol­diers who “risked their lives” to save them.

A govern­ment of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion said nu­mer­ous agen­cies, in­clud­ing the FBI, Depart­ment of De­fense and State Depart­ment had been in­volved in a years’-long ef­fort to se­cure the fam­ily’s re­lease, though this per­son was un­clear on what hap­pened to change the sit­u­a­tion this week.

“They have a re­ally tough road ahead of them,” said the of­fi­cial, who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the op­er­a­tion. “They have been liv­ing a night­mare for five years. I think they are go­ing to need some time to ad­just back into their old lives.”

Over the course of Ms. Cole­man’s cap­tiv­ity there were ques­tions about where she and her fam­ily were be­ing held and who were the key de­ci­sion-mak­ers among their cap­tors, the of­fi­cial said. The Haqqani net­work is a so­phis­ti­cated or­ga­ni­za­tion la­beled a ter­ror­ist group by the U.S. and also a crim­i­nal en­ter­prise.

Some of the videos the group re­leased of Ms. Cole­man and Mr. Boyle in­cluded de­mands that the U.S. re­lease fight­ers Amer­i­cans had de­tained.

The cou­ple met on­line, bonded over a love for Star Wars and mar­ried in Cen­tral Amer­ica in 2011.

A friend of Mr. Boyle's who, cit­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity of the case and con­cerns about his job asked to be iden­ti­fied only by his first name, Greg, said he met the in­tensely pri­vate Mr. Boyle about 15 years ago play­ing an on­line Star Wars game. They be­came close, he said, and Boyle even­tu­ally at­tended his wed­ding.

“He was so funny and so charis­matic,” he said in a phone in­ter­view. Mr. Boyle and Ma. Cole­man had been friends for some time on­line be­fore they mar­ried, he said.

“He raved about her -how good a per­son she is, and how smart she is,” Greg said.

Ad­ven­tur­ous trav­el­ers, Ms. Cole­man and Mr. Boyle had planned a back­pack­ing trip through Kyr­gyzs­tan, Kaza­khstan, and Ta­jik­istan in 2012. Afghanistan had never been on the itin­er­ary. Mr. Boyle had spo­ken some­times, Greg said, of vis­it­ing Afghanistan once the con­flict there was re­solved, to write about the af­ter­math of the war there. But his friend said Mr. Boyle hadn't told him about any cur­rent plans to travel there.

“I kind of wish he would have told me, be­cause I would have said, ' Hey, dummy, what are you do­ing?” Greg said.

The last their par­ents heard from them be­fore their cap­ture was an email Mr. Boyle sent from an In­ter­net cafe, say­ing he was in an “un­safe” part of Afghanistan.

They would ap­pear spo­rad­i­cally in videos from the Haqqani net­work, say­ing their cap­tors had threat­ened to kill them if the Afghan govern­ment would not stop ex­e­cut­ing Tal­iban pris­on­ers.

Pre­vi­ously, Mr. Boyle was mar­ried for a year to Zaynab Khadr, whose fa­ther had sus­pected ties to Al Qaeda and whose brother was ar­rested in Afghanistan at the age of 15 and held in Guan­tanamo Bay for years. Cana­dian of­fi­cials have said his kid­nap­ping was likely un­re­lated to his ex-wife's fam­ily ties, and friends have said Mr. Boyle was a paci­fist, raised Men­non­ite, who be­came in­volved with the Khadr fam­ily be­cause of his in­ter­est in hu­man rights.

In a speech out­side Har­ris­burg on Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had hinted that the fam­ily's re­lease was im­mi­nent: “Some­thing hap­pened to­day where a coun­try that to­tally dis­re­spected us called with some very, very im­por­tant news.”

Press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders con­firmed Thurs­day that he had been re­fer­ring to the cou­ple.

Site In­tel Gropu via AP

Cana­dian Joshua Boyle and his wife, Amer­i­can Cait­lan Cole­man, who were kid­napped in Afghanistan in 2012, are shown in an im­age from 2016.

Bill Gor­man/As­so­ci­ated Press

From left, Pa­trick Boyle, Linda Boyle, Lyn Cole­man and Jim Cole­man gather in 2014 in Ste­wart­stown, Pa. They’re hold­ing a photo of their chil­dren, Joshua Boyle and Cait­lan Cole­man, who were kid­napped by the Tal­iban in late 2012.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.