Kid­naped, held 5 years, U.S.-Cana­dian fam­ily freed in Pak­istan

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - NEWS - By Jill Colvin, Rob Gil­lies and Munir Ahmed

WASH­ING­TON » Five years af­ter they were seized by a ter­ror­ist net­work in the moun­tains of Afghanistan, an Amer­i­can wo­man, her Cana­dian hus­band and their three chil­dren — all born in cap­tiv­ity — are free af­ter a dra­matic res­cue or­ches­trated by the U.S. and Pak­istani gov­ern­ments, of­fi­cials said Thurs­day.

The U.S. said Pak­istan ac­com­plished the re­lease of Cait­lan Cole­man of Ste­wart­stown, Penn­syl­va­nia, 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. The op­er­a­tion, which came af­ter years of U.S. pres­sure on Pak­istan for as­sis­tance, un­folded quickly and in­cluded what some de­scribed as a shootout and a dan­ger­ous raid. U.S. of­fi­cials did not con­firm the de­tails.

“To­day they are free,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said in a state­ment, cred­it­ing the U.S.-Pak­istani part­ner­ship for se­cur­ing the re­lease. 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 cou­ple were kid­napped in Oc­to­ber of 2012 while on a back­pack­ing trip that took them to Rus­sia, the coun­tries of Kaza­khstan, Ta­jik­istan and Kyr­gyzs­tan, and then to Afghanistan. Cole­man was sev­eral months preg­nant at the time, “naive,” but also “ad­ven­ture­some” with a hu­man­i­tar­ian bent, her fa­ther James told The As­so­ci­ated Press in 2012.

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary said early Thurs­day the fam­ily was “be­ing repa­tri­ated to the coun­try of their ori­gin.” But as of Thurs­day evening, it was not known when they would re­turn to North Amer­ica. 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.

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary said the fam­ily had been freed in “an in­tel­li­gence­based 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 was a shoot-out 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. 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.”

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 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 fam­ily ties.

He was once mar­ried to Zaynab Khadr, the older sis­ter of for­mer Guan­tanamo Bay de­tainee Omar Khadr and the daugh­ter of a se­nior al-Qaida fi­nancier. Her fa­ther, the late 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 and was taken to the U.S. de­ten­tion cen­ter at Guan­tanamo Bay. His sis­ter, Zaynab Khadr, who ad­vo­cated for her brother’s re­lease, and her mother 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 U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment said nei­ther Boyle nor Cole­man are not wanted for any fed­eral crime.

The cou­ple told U.S. of­fi­cials they wanted to fly com­mer­cially to Canada, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he wasn’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the sit­u­a­tion.

The Toronto Star re­ported that Boyle spoke to his par­ents af­ter his re­lease. “Josh said he was do­ing pretty well for some­one who has spent the last five years in an un­der­ground prison,” his fa­ther said.

Cole­man’s par­ents, Jim and Lyn Cole­man, mean­while, posted a state­ment on the door of their Penn­syl­va­nia home ex­press­ing joy. Lyn Cole­man said “I am in a state of eu­pho­ria, stunned and over­joyed,” in an in­ter­view with ABC News.

The de­vel­op­ments came rapidly Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon —nearly five years to the day af­ter Cole­man and Boyle lost touch with their fam­i­lies while trav­el­ing in a moun­tain­ous re­gion near the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kabul.

Cole­man’s par­ents last had a con­ver­sa­tion with their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, via an email sent from an in­ter­net cafe he’d de­scribed as be­ing in an “un­safe” part of Afghanistan. From then on, there were only des­per­ate, hostage videos re­leased by their cap­tors and hand-scrawled let­ters mailed home.

“I pray to hear from you again, to hear how ev­ery­body is do­ing,” read one let­ter the par­ents shared with the on­line Circa News ser­vice in July 2016, in which Cole­man re­vealed she’d given birth to a sec­ond child in cap­tiv­ity. It’s un­clear whether they knew she’d had a third.

Boyle’s par­ents say their son told them in a let­ter that he and his wife pre­tended to the chil­dren that their signs of cap­tiv­ity were part of a game be­ing played with guards.

U.S. of­fi­cials call the Haqqani group a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and have tar­geted its lead­ers with drone strikes. But the group also op­er­ates like a crim­i­nal net­work. Un­like the Is­lamic State group, it does not typ­i­cally ex­e­cute Western hostages, pre­fer­ring to ran­som them for cash.

MATT ROURKE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mem­bers of the me­dia make im­ages of a posted note on the front door of Jim and Lyn Cole­man’s home in Ste­wart­stown, Pa., Thurs­day.

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