A Canadian man, his American wife and their three young children have been released after being held captive for years by a network with ties to the Taliban, U.S. and Pakistani officials said Thursday.
Pakistan’s army secured the release of Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman, who were abducted five years ago while travelling in Afghanistan and had been held by the Haqqani network.
U.S. officials had planned on moving the family out of Pakistan on a U.S. transport plane, but at the last minute Boyle would not get on, the official said.
Another U.S. official said Boyle was nervous about being in “custody” given his background. Boyle was previously married to the sister of Omar Khadr, who spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay after being captured when he was 15 in a 2002 firefight at an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan.
Officials discounted any link between that background and Boyle’s capture, with one official describing it as a “horrible coincidence.”
The couple has told U.S. officials that 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.
Coleman was pregnant when the family was captured five years ago. The couple had three children while in captivity, and all have been freed, U.S. officials said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government was “greatly relieved” that Boyle and his family had been released and are safe.
“Joshua, Caitlan, their children and the Boyle and Coleman families have endured a horrible ordeal over the past five years. We stand ready to support them as they begin their healing journey,” she said in a statement.
“Canada has been actively engaged with the governments of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan and we thank them for their efforts, which have resulted in the release of Joshua, Caitlan and their children.”
U.S. President Donald Trump also commented on the family’s release, saying, “yesterday, the United States government, working in conjunction with the Government of Pakistan, secured the release of the Boyle-Coleman family from captivity in Pakistan. Today they are free.”
As of Thursday morning, however, 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, but 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.
In Pakistan, its military said in a statement that U.S. intelligence agencies had been tracking the hostages and discovered they had come into Pakistan on Oct. 11 through its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
“All hostages were recovered safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin,” the military said.
Three Pakistani military officials, all speaking on condition of anonymity as they weren’t allowed to speak to journalists, also confirmed the hostages’ identities.
The release, which came together rapidly Wednesday, comes nearly five years to the day since Boyle and Coleman lost touch with their families while travelling in a mountainous region near the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The couple set off in the summer 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan. Coleman’s parents last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an internet cafe in what Boyle described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.
In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos asking the U.S. government to free them.
A video released in August last year showed Coleman and Boyle warning that their captors would kill them and their children unless the government in Kabul ended its execution of Taliban prisoners.
Last December, in a video of the couple and two of their children that was uploaded to YouTube, the pair urged governments on all sides to reach a deal to secure the family’s freedom. Boyle’s parents had said the clip marked the first time they had seen their two grandchildren.
Patrick and Linda Boyle had said it was heartbreaking to watch their grandsons observing their surroundings while listening to their mother describe how they were made to watch her being “defiled.”
“It is an indescribable emotional sense one has watching a grandson making faces at the camera, while hearing our son’s leg chains clanging up and down on the floor as he tries to settle his son,” the Boyles said in a written statement. “It is unbelievable that they have had to shield their sons from their horrible reality for four years.”
The parents said their son told them in a letter that he and his wife tried to protect their children by pretending their signs of captivity are part of a game being played with guards.
In the clip, Coleman said she and her family had been living a “Kafkaesque nightmare” since 2012. The Boyles had said their daughter-in-law could not have used a more accurate term.
Meanwhile, Coleman’s parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, told the online Circa News service in July 2016 that they received a letter from their daughter in November 2015, in which she wrote that she’d given birth to a second child in captivity. It’s unclear whether they knew she’d had a third.
U.S. officials call the Haqqani network 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.
Baldor reported from Tampa and Colvin from Washington. Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.