U.S.-Canadian couple Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle landed in Canada late Friday, five years after they were kidnapped in Afghanistan. They arrived with their three young children, who were all born in captivity.
Boyle provided a written statement to The Associated Press on the plane saying his family has “unparalleled resilience and determination.”
Coleman and Boyle were rescued Wednesday, five years after they had been abducted by a Taliban-linked extremist network while in Afghanistan as part of a backpacking trip. Coleman was pregnant at the time. Coleman is from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, and Boyle is Canadian.
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The final leg of the family’s journey was an Air Canada flight Friday from London to Toronto.
Coleman, wearing a tan-colored headscarf, sat in the aisle of the business class cabin. She nodded wordlessly when she confirmed her identity to a reporter on board the flight. In the two seats next to her were her two elder children. In the seat beyond that was Boyle, with their youngest child in his lap. U.S. State Department officials were on the plane with them.
Boyle gave The Associated Press a handwritten statement expressing disagreement with U.S. foreign policy.
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“God has given me and my family unparalleled resilience and determination, and to allow that to stagnate, to pursue personal pleasure or comfort while there is still deliberate and organized injustice in the world would be a betrayal of all I believe, and tantamount to sacrilege,” he wrote.
He nodded to one of the State Department officials and said, “Their interests are not my interests.”
He added that one of his children is in poor health and had to be force-fed by their Pakistani rescuers.
The family was able to leave from the plane with their escorts before the rest of the passengers. There was about a 5-to 10-minute delay before everyone else was allowed out.
“Today, we join the Boyle family in rejoicing over the long-awaited return to Canada of their loved ones,” the Canadian government said in a statement. “Canada has been actively engaged on Mr. Boyle’s case at all levels, and we will continue to support him and his family now that they have returned.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said the Pakistani raid that led to the family’s rescue was based on a tip from U.S. intelligence and shows that Pakistan will act against a “common enemy” when Washington shares information.
U.S. officials have long accused Pakistan of ignoring groups like the Haqqani network, which was holding the family.
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A U.S. national security official, who was not authorized to discuss operational details of the release and spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. obtained actionable information, passed it to Pakistani government officials, asked them to interdict and recover the hostages – and they did.
On Friday, President Donald Trump, who previously warned Pakistan to stop harbouring militants, praised Pakistan for its “co-operation on many fronts.” On Twitter, he wrote that the U.S. is “Starting to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders.”
The operation appeared to have unfolded quickly and ended with what some described as a dangerous raid, a shootout and a captor’s final, terrifying threat to “kill the hostage.” Boyle told his parents that he, his wife and their children were intercepted by Pakistani forces while being transported in the back or trunk of their captors’ car and that some of his captors were killed. He suffered only a shrapnel wound, his family said.
U.S. officials did not confirm those details.
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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 Thursday, as the family members were walking to the plane, Boyle said he did not want to board, the official said.
Boyle’s father said his son did not want to board the plane because it was headed to Bagram Air Base and the family wanted to return directly to North America. 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.
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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 centre at Guantanamo Bay. 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 is wanted for any federal crime.
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.
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The Haqqani network had previously demanded the release of Anas Haqqani, a son of the founder of the group, in exchange for turning over the American-Canadian family. In one of the videos released by their captors, Boyle implored the Afghan government not to execute Taliban prisoners, or he and his wife would be killed.
U.S. officials have said that several other Americans are being held by militant groups in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
They include Kevin King, 60, a teacher at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul who was abducted in August 2016, and Paul Overby, an author in his 70s who had travelled to the region several times but disappeared in eastern Afghanistan in mid-2014.