A Canadian man, his American wife and their three young children have been released from captivity after being held hostage for years by a network with ties to the Taliban.
Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman were abducted five years ago while travelling in Afghanistan and were held by the Haqqani network, a group U.S. officials call a terrorist organization. Coleman was pregnant when she was captured, and the couple had three children while in captivity.
Pakistan secured the release of the family this week, U.S. officials said Thursday, but it was not immediately clear when they would return to North America.
Boyle’s parents, who live in Smiths Falls, Ont., issued a video statement released to the Toronto Star saying they spoke with their son over the phone early Thursday morning.
“That’s the first time in five years we got to hear his voice. It was amazing,” Linda Boyle said. “He told us … how much his children were looking forward to meeting their grandparents, and that he’d see me in a couple days.”
Patrick Boyle, who said the family was not yet en route to Canada, thanked those involved in the case.
“We’d really like to thank the American and Afghan governments as well as our own Canadian team,” he said. “Most importantly this morning we relayed to the high commissioner of Pakistan here in Canada our profound thanks for the courageous Pakistani soldiers who risked their lives and got all five of ours out in a rescue.”
RCMP officers were keeping reporters away from the family’s home in Smiths Falls, located about 80 kilometres west of Ottawa.
Coleman’s parents, meanwhile, posted a statement on the door of their Pennsylvania home saying they appreciated “all the interest and concern being expressed at the joyful news that Caity, Josh and our grandchildren have been released after five long years of captivity.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada was “greatly relieved” that Joshua 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, while also thanking the U.S., Afghan and Pakistani governments for their efforts in the case.
The family was not in U.S. custody, though they were together in a safe location in Pakistan, according to a U.S. national security official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly.
U.S. officials had planned on moving the family out of Pakistan on a U.S. transport plane, but at the last minute Boyle refused to board, the official said.
Another U.S. official said Boyle was nervous about being in “custody” given that he 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 firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan. Officials discounted any link between that background and Boyle’s capture.
The couple has told U.S. officials that they wanted to fly commercially to Canada, according to an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
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.
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 high commissioner of Pakistan to Ottawa said he had no details on the operation but said it was clear it had to happen quickly once Pakistani authorities received intelligence about the Boyle family’s whereabouts.
“Once we knew they had been moved to Pakistan we took the action,” said Tariq Azim Khan.
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.
The couple appeared in a series of videos beginning in 2013, which were shared online. In the most recent, posted last December, 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.
In commenting on news of the family’s release from captivity, U.S. Premier Donald Trump praised Pakistan for its willingness to “do more to provide security in the region.”
“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,” Trump said in a statement. “Today they are free.”
— with files from the Associated Press.