Family of 5 held captive by Taliban-linked group released

WASHINGTON (AP) — An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children have been released after years held captive by a group that has ties to the Taliban and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, U.S. and Pakistani officials said Thursday.

U.S. officials said Pakistan secured the release of Caitlan Coleman of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, who were abducted five years ago while traveling in Afghanistan and then were held by the Haqqani network.

Coleman was pregnant when she was captured. The couple had three children while in captivity, and all have been freed, U.S. 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 and were “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.

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 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.

The Canadian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound. He was taken to Guantanamo and ultimately charged with war crimes by a military commission. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included murder and was sentenced to eight years plus the time he had already spent in custody.

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 Toronto Star reported that Boyle spoke to his parents after his release and told them he’d been in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car with his wife and children when Pakistani forces rescued them. He told the paper there had been a shoot-out and that the last words he heard from the kidnappers were, “kill the hostages.”

“Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison,” his father, Patrick, told the paper.

The couple also recorded a video, in which they recounted their first conversation with their son in five years.

“We got to hear his voice. It was amazing. He told us how much his children were looking forward meeting their grandparents,” his mother, Linda Boyle, said.

Coleman’s parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, 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.”

The release came together rapidly Wednesday. It happened 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.