FAMILY RESCUED AFTER GUNFIGHT WITH TERRORISTS
After five years of waiting, an American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children — all born in captivity — have been freed from a terrorist network in Pakistan.
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.
“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 intelligence-based operation by Pakistan troops” after they’d crossed the border 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 had 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.
The Pakistani military said early Thursday 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. The family was not in U.S. custody, though they 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 to Pakistan 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.
Several years ago, Zaynab Khadr and her mother also upset many Canadians by expressing pro-al-Qaida views.
Officials had discounted any link between that background and Boyle’s capture, with one official describing it in 2014 as a “horrible coincidence.”
The couple has told U.S. officials they wanted to fly commercially to Canada, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
The military official said the family is 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 family out of Pakistan, if that is their choice.
In a 2016 video, Caitlan Coleman talks as her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, holds their two children. U.S. officials said Pakistan secured the release of Coleman of Stewartstown, Pa., and her husband, who were abducted five years ago in Afghanistan. Their children were born in captivity.