Couple freed after years as hostages to Taliban-linked criminals
Mystery surrounds capture, imprisonment
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.
Canadian Joshua Boyle and his wife, American Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012, are shown in an image from 2016.
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.