Pa. couple, Taliban hostages, released after nearly five years in captivity

Aubrey Whelan, Staff Writer

Updated: Thursday, October 12, 2017, 7:09 PM

Caitlan Coleman of York County, appeared in the video with her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, and their two boys in December.

The last time anyone heard from Caitlan Coleman, the York County, Pa., native spoke of the “Kafkaesque nightmare” she and her husband, Joshua Boyle, had been trapped in for nearly five years.

Canadian Joshua Boyle and American Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012, are shown in an image from 2016. SITE Intel Gropu via AP
In this June 4, 2014, file photo, from left, Patrick Boyle, Linda Boyle, Lyn Coleman and Jim Coleman hold photo of their kidnapped children, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped by the Taliban in late 2012, Wednesday, June 4, 2014, in Stewartstown, Pa. Pakistan's military says soldiers have recovered five Western hostages held by the Taliban for years. Pakistan's army did not name those held, only saying it worked with U.S. intelligence officials to track down the hostages and free them after discovering they had been brought into Pakistan. BILL GORMAN / AP
In this June 4, 2014, file photo, mother's Linda Boyle, left and Lyn Coleman hold photo of their married children, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped by the Taliban in late 2012 in Stewartstown, Pa. The State Department is evaluating a video released by the Afghan Taliban showing Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman warning that their Afghan captors will kill them unless the Kabul government ends its executions of Taliban prisoners. BILL GORMAN / AP
This still image made from a 2013 video released by the Coleman family shows Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle in a militant video given to the family. The American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children have been released in October 2017 after years of being held captive by a network with ties to the Taliban. The two were abducted five years ago while traveling in Afghanistan and have been held by the Haqqani network. The couple had three children while in captivity. Coleman family via AP
Members of the news media gather outside the front door of the York County home of the parents of Caitlan Coleman. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
A note after is taped to the front door of the York County home of the parents of Caitlan Coleman, asking everyone respect their privacy. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Linda and Patrick Boyle, parents of Joshua Boyle, speak with the media outside their home in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Adrian Wyld /The Canadian Press
Photo Gallery: Canadian Joshua Boyle and American Caitlan Coleman released

The couple were kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012 and held in Pakistan by a criminal network linked to the Taliban. Through the years, videos and letters trickled out from their captors: Coleman and Boyle begging for freedom and for “money, power and friends” for the Haqqani network holding them prisoner.

In this June 4, 2014, file photo, mother's Linda Boyle, left and Lyn Coleman hold photo of their married children, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped by the Taliban in late 2012.

In the last, chilling video, released in December, two of the couple’s children, both born in captivity, appeared on screen. “My children have seen their mother defiled,” Coleman read from a script.

On Thursday, the family — including a third child, born since the video’s release — was free, according to the U.S. and Pakistani governments.

Their rescue was likely to finally lead to some resolution of the mystery surrounding their capture and extended imprisonment. Nearly two dozen westerners are believed to be detained by Taliban affiliates, although the couple’s plight had been among the most chronicled.

Details on their rescue were scant Thursday. Coleman, of Stewartstown, and Boyle, son of a Canadian judge, and their children — two boys and a girl — were reportedly at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. It wasn’t clear when or if they would return to the United States.

“They’ve been essentially living in a hole for five years,” White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said in a briefing. “Thank God that the Pakistani officials took them into custody, so to speak, from the forces of evil in that part of the world, and they’re being taken care of as we speak.”

Coleman’s parents placed a note on their front door Thursday afternoon asking for privacy as they “make plans for the future.” They called the release of Coleman, Boyle, and their grandchildren “joyous news.”

A note from the family of Caitlan Coleman is taped to the front door of the York County home. Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle were held hostage by Islamist militants in Afghanistan for five years. They have been freed by Pakistani officials along with their three children born in captivity.

Boyle told his parents Thursday morning that he was in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car with his wife and children when Pakistani forces opened fire, killing five militants and rescuing the family, the Toronto Star reported. Boyle said the last words he heard from the kidnappers were, “Kill the hostages,” the newspaper said.

In a video statement provided to the Star, Boyle’s parents said that they had spoken with their son before dawn Thursday and that he had told them how much his children were looking forward to meeting their grandparents. They gave their “profound thanks” to American, Canadian and Pakistani officials who worked to free their son and daughter-in-law, and to the Pakistani soldiers who “risked their lives” to save them, they said.

A government official familiar with the situation said numerous agencies, including the FBI, Department of Defense and State Department had been involved in a years-long effort to secure the family’s release, though this person was unclear on what happened to change the situation this week.

“They have a really tough road ahead of them,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the operation. “They have been living a nightmare for five years. I think they are going to need some time to adjust back into their old lives.”

Over the course of Coleman’s captivity, there were questions about where she and her family were being held and who were the key decision-makers among their captors, the official said. The Haqqani network is a sophisticated organization labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. and also a criminal enterprise.

Some of the videos the group released of Coleman and Boyle included demands that the U.S. release fighters Americans had detained.

The couple met online, bonded over a love for Star Wars, and married in Central America in 2011.

A friend of Boyle’s who, citing the sensitivity of the case and concerns about his job, asked to be identified only by his first name, Greg, said he met the intensely private Boyle about 15 years ago playing an online Star Wars game. They became close, he said, and Boyle eventually attended his wedding.

“He was so funny and so charismatic,” he said. Boyle and Coleman had been friends for some time online before they married, he said.

“He raved about her — how good a person she is, and how smart she is,” Greg said.

Adventurous travelers, Coleman and Boyle had planned a backpacking trip through Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan in 2012. Afghanistan had never been on the itinerary. Boyle had spoken sometimes, Greg said, of visiting Afghanistan once the conflict there was resolved, to write about the aftermath of the war there. But his friend said Boyle hadn’t told him about any current plans to travel there.

“I kind of wish he would have told me, because I would have said, ‘Hey, dummy, what are you doing?” Greg said.

The last their parents heard from them before their capture was an email Boyle sent from an Internet cafe there, saying he was in an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

They would appear sporadically in videos from the Haqqani network over the years, saying their captors had threatened to kill them if the Afghan government would not stop executing Taliban prisoners.

Previously, Boyle was married for a year to Zaynab Khadr, whose father had suspected ties to al-Qaeda and whose brother was arrested in Afghanistan at age 15 and held at Guantanamo Bay for years. Canadian officials have said his kidnapping was likely unrelated to his ex-wife’s family ties, and friends have said Boyle was a pacifist, raised as a Mennonite, who became involved with the Khadr family because of his interest in human rights.

CNN reported Thursday that a “senior U.S. official” said Boyle had refused to board a plane to the U.S. because he was concerned he would face arrest, though there was “no indication at the time” that he would.

In a speech outside Harrisburg on Wednesday, President Trump had hinted that the family’s release was imminent: “Something happened today where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news;” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Thursday that he had been referencing Coleman and Boyle.

In December, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said Coleman’s family was “a model of persistence and determination” through “the most horrific of situations.”

On Thursday, Casey commended both the Trump and Obama administrations for their efforts.

“Today, our commonwealth and our country give thanks that Caitlan Coleman, Josh Boyle, and their children have been released from captivity,” he said in a statement. “This day is also special for Jim and Lyn Coleman, who have spent the last five years devoted to the mission of bringing their loved ones home. They have been living any parent’s nightmare, and today they can begin to heal and recover.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said in a statement that Coleman’s parents “never gave up hope that this day would come.”

“I applaud the work of President Trump, Secretary Tillerson, and the entire national security team for their diligent efforts to secure their release,” he said.

Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.), who represents Coleman’s district, said he had “an inkling” last night when the president visited Harrisburg and he spoke briefly with him. The official word came early Thursday. “We weren’t sure of anything until this morning.”

He praised the Trump administration for adding new emphasis to the push for Coleman’s release.

“I sensed a different sense of urgency from the current administration. We’ve been working with the last one and we were just frustrated at every turn,” Perry said. “A lot of conversation, but didn’t seem to be a lot of action.”

Staff writers Angela Couloumbis and Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.

Aubrey Whelan, Staff Writer

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