Hellish or­deal ends in hostages’ re­turn

Cou­ple cap­tured in Afghanistan by Tal­iban-linked group five years ago.

Star Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By ADAM GOLD­MAN New York Times 612-673-4343 or go to star­tri­bune.com/sub­scribe Min­neapo­lis, St. Paul MN • Vol­ume XXXVI • No. 192 • Oct. 13, 2017 star­tri­bune.com • 612-673-4414 • 612-673-4000

WASH­ING­TON – Stuffed by their cap­tors into the back of a car with their chil­dren as they were be­ing fer­ried across the rugged tribal ar­eas of north­west Pak­istan, an Amer­i­can wo­man and her Cana­dian hus­band were in the fi­nal mo­ments of their five-year or­deal as hostages.

But sud­denly, shoot­ing erupted. One of their ab­duc­tors, a Tal­iban-linked mil­i­tant, shouted, “Kill the hostages.”

The mil­i­tants found them­selves cor­nered by the Pak­ista­nis. The gun bat­tle ended, and Pak­istani troops pulled the fam­ily from the ve­hi­cle, to be taken by he­li­copter to Islamabad. They were safe. The Pak­ista­nis, act­ing on in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by U.S. in­tel­li­gence and col­lected from drones that had been track­ing the hostages, had pulled off Wed­nes­day’s risky op­er­a­tion.

The brief fire­fight, de­scribed by rel­a­tives of the fam­ily as well as U.S., Cana­dian and Pak­istani of­fi­cials, capped the end of an unimag­in­able or­deal for Cait­lan Cole­man, 31, and her hus­band, Joshua Boyle, 34, who were seized in Oc­to­ber 2012 by the Haqqani net­work, a Tal­iban fac­tion. Cole­man, who had NEWS TIPS: COM­MENTS:

been preg­nant when she was ab­ducted, gave birth to all three of her chil­dren in cap­tiv­ity. Boyle suf­fered mi­nor shrap­nel wounds in the raid, his fam­ily said.

In dra­matic videos re­leased last year by her cap­tors, Cole­man, who is from south-cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia, had pleaded for her life. In footage de­pict­ing two of her chil­dren, one with a paci­fier, Cole­man de­scribed her time as a hostage as “Kafkaesque” and said she had been “de­filed.” She urged the U.S. govern­ment to “help stop this de­prav­ity.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump praised the Pak­ista­nis for their role in free­ing the fam­ily.

“This is a pos­i­tive mo­ment for our coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan,” Trump said in a state­ment on Thurs­day. “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.”

The fam­ily was at the U.S. Em­bassy in Islamabad late Thurs­day, Tariq Azim Khan, a Pak­istani diplo­mat, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Lon­don. The Pak­istani mil­i­tary pledged to repa­tri­ate them, and U.S. of­fi­cials were ex­plor­ing how to get the fam­ily out of South Asia. Boyle’s rel­a­tives said they ex­pected him to re­turn home in the com­ing days.

“Josh in­di­cated that they’d like to come back to Canada,” his mother, Linda, said out­side the fam­ily’s stone house in Smiths Falls, On­tario, about an hour south­west of Ottawa. “That was their plan right now.”

The re­turn trip was com­pli­cated by Boyle’s re­fusal to board an Amer­i­can C-130 to take the fam­ily out of Pak­istan and to Ba­gram Air Base in Afghanistan, where Amer­i­cans have been ac­cused of abus­ing de­tainees. His fa­ther said Boyle was philo­soph­i­cally op­posed to trav­el­ing to the base.

Af­ter mar­ry­ing in 2011, Cole­man and Boyle spent months trav­el­ing in Cen­tral Amer­ica be­fore leav­ing for a trip through Rus­sia and Cen­tral Asia. They had planned to leave Afghanistan in late 2012 be­cause of Cole­man’s preg­nancy. But they were kid­napped in Oc­to­ber of that year while back­pack­ing in War­dak Prov­ince, a mil­i­tant strong­hold near Kabul.

In ex­change for the fam­ily’s free­dom, the Haqqani net­work had pre­vi­ously de­manded the re­lease of Anas Haqqani, one of its com­man­ders. The Afghan govern­ment cap­tured Haqqani in 2014, and he was sen­tenced to death. The mil­i­tant group had threat­ened to kill the fam­ily if he was ex­e­cuted.

Ear­lier at­tempts to bring the fam­ily home 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 would be the first in a se­ries of releases, in­clud­ing Cole­man and her fam­ily.

But that never ma­te­ri­al­ized, for rea­sons that re­main un­clear. No pris­on­ers were ex­changed and no money was paid to se­cure the fam­ily’s re­lease, Khan said.

The Obama 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.

Cole­man’s preg­nan­cies added pres­sure to re­solve an al­ready des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion, one in which the Haqqa­nis had re­peat­edly threat­ened to kill the fam­ily, in­clud­ing the chil­dren.

“The like­li­hood of a suc­cess­ful res­cue was pretty much dis­counted in our minds,” said Boyle’s fa­ther, Pa­trick.

The plight of the fam­ily at­tracted wide­spread at­ten­tion in Canada, though not all of it sym­pa­thetic.

Deeply in­ter­ested in Is­lam and ter­ror­ism, Boyle was pre­vi­ously mar­ried to the old­est sis­ter of Omar Khadr, a Cana­dian cap­tured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 and held for a decade at the wartime prison at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba. He was repa­tri­ated in 2012.

Boyle vol­un­teered as a spokesman for Khadr’s rel­a­tives, who did lit­tle to en­dear them­selves to the Cana­dian pub­lic and do­mes­tic se­cu­rity ser­vices, ac­cord­ing to Cana­dian me­dia re­ports. Khadr’s fa­ther was killed in 2003 by Pak­istani forces near the border with Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was a guest at a pre­vi­ous wed­ding of Khadr’s sis­ter, Zaynab, who spoke pub­licly in sup­port of ter­ror­ism and wed Boyle in 2009, a mar­riage that ended a year later.

In 2009, Boyle’s par­ents’ Ottawa home was bur­gled, though bul­let holes in the home prompted the au­thor­i­ties to ques­tion whether the crime was linked to Boyle’s first wife or his fa­ther’s job as a fed­eral tax judge.

The end of the fam­ily’s cap­tiv­ity was a vic­tory for State Depart­ment of­fi­cials and the FBI-led Hostage Re­cov­ery Fu­sion Cell, which had worked on the case for years. The group was cre­ated un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to im­prove the govern­ment’s ef­forts to free hostages and to en­sure their fam­i­lies re­ceived timely in­for­ma­tion about them.

The Haqqa­nis are be­lieved to still be hold­ing an Amer­i­can univer­sity pro­fes­sor, Kevin King, who was kid­napped in Au­gust 2016. On a video re­leased this year, King pleaded for Trump to free him: “Have mercy on me and get me out.”

An­other Amer­i­can, Paul Overby, dis­ap­peared in May 2014 when he was try­ing to in­ter­view the leader of the Haqqani net­work.

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

BILL GOR­MAN • As­so­ci­ated Press

Cait­lan Cole­man and Joshua Boyle spent months trav­el­ing in Asia be­fore be­ing cap­tured in Afghanistan.

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