Captive for 5 years, family is freed
Couple, 3 kids were held by Taliban-allied network after abduction in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — Five years after being taken hostage in Afghanistan, an American woman and her Canadian husband are free, along with their three children, all born in captivity. They were released in a dramatic confrontation punctuated by gunfire, officials said Thursday, though the circumstances were not entirely clear.
U.S. officials said Pakistan accomplished the release of Caitlan Coleman of Stewartstown, Pa., and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, who were abducted and held by the Haqqani network, which has ties to the Taliban and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
Coleman was pregnant when abducted and gave birth to her three children while a captive, officials said. The couple were kidnapped in October 2012 while on a backpacking trip that took them to Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan.
“Today, they are free,” President Donald Trump said in a statement, crediting the U.S. government with securing the release “working in conjunction with the government of Pakistan.” Trump later praised Pakistan for its willingness to “do more to provide security in the region” and said the release suggests other “countries are starting to respect the United States of America once again.”
The Pakistani military said the family had been freed in “an intelligencebased operation by Pakistan troops” after they’d entered from Afghanistan.
Boyle and the high commissioner for Pakistan to Canada described a scene in which gunshots rang out as Boyle, his wife and their children were intercepted by Pakistani forces while being transported in the trunk of their captors’ car.
Boyle told his parents there’d been a shootout and that the last words he’d heard from the kidnappers were, “Kill the hostage.” That was according to Boyle’s father, Patrick, quoted by 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 armed forces said early Thursday that the family was “being repatriated to the country of their origin.” But as of Thursday midday, the family’s precise whereabouts were unclear, and it was not immediately known when they would return to North America.
A U.S. military official said that a military hostage team had flown to Pakistan on Wednesday, 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 board.
Another U.S. official said Boyle was nervous about being in “custody,” given his background.
Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a late senior al-Qaida financier. Her father, 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 at a suspected al-Qaida compound. He was taken to Guantanamo and pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included murder and was sentenced to eight years plus the time he had already spent in custody.
Officials had discounted any link between that background and Boyle’s capture, with one official describing it in 2014 as a “horrible coincidence.”
In this image released by Taliban Media in December, American Caitlan Coleman spoke while her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, held two of their children. U.S. officials said Pakistan secured the release of Coleman and her family.