Canadian Joshua Boyle, his U.S.-born wife and their three young children have been released after years of being held captive by a network with ties to the Taliban.
“We can confirm Josh and family have been freed,” Boyle’s father, Patrick Boyle, told CBC News.
Joshua Boyle and his wife, Caitlan Coleman, were abducted five years ago while travelling in Afghanistan and were being held by the Haqqani network. They had been living in Perth-Andover, N.B.
Coleman was pregnant when they were captured. The couple had three children — two boys and a girl — while they were in captivity.
On Thursday morning, The Associated Press reported that U.S. officials said Pakistan had secured the release of a Canadian, his American wife and their three children.
The family’s current location, however, was unclear. Officials had declined to say when the family planned to return to North America.
U.S. President Donald Trump, in a statement, welcomed the return of the family from captivity and said the U.S. had worked in conjunction with Pakistan to secure their release.
“Today they are free,” said Trump. “This is a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan. The Pakistani government’s co-operation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region.”
Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State, echoed Trump’s praise for the joint effort in his own statement, emphasizing “innumerable lines of effort” to help free the family.
The U.S. has long criticized Pakistan for failing to aggressively go after the Haqqanis, who have been behind many attacks against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials call the 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 in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it does not typically execute Western hostages, preferring to seek ransom.
“We welcome media reports that a family including U.S. citizens has been freed from captivity,” an official from the U.S. State Department told CBC News.
The CBC has also contacted Global Affairs Canada.
It’s unclear what role, if any, Canada played in helping secure their release. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been adamant that Canada will not pay ransom to groups it considers terrorists in order to release kidnapped citizens, arguing it further funds such groups’ illegal and sometimes deadly activities.
Pakistan says family will be repatriated
Pakistan’s 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.
The release, which came together rapidly Wednesday, reports The Associated Press, comes nearly five years to the day since Coleman and Boyle lost touch with their families while travelling in the Kardak region, a mountainous region near the Afghan capital of 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.
In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos asking the U.S. government to free them from the Taliban.
Coleman’s parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, told the online Circa News service in July 2016 that they had received a letter from their daughter in November 2015 in which she wrote that she had given birth a second time while in captivity.
“I pray to hear from you again, to hear how everybody is doing,” the letter said.
In that interview, Jim Coleman issued a plea to top Taliban commanders to be “kind and merciful” and let the couple go.
“As a man, father and now grandfather, I am asking you to show mercy and release my daughter, her husband, and our beautiful grandchildren,” he said.
“Please grant them an opportunity to continue their lives with us, and bring peace to their families.”
Joshua Boyle was previously married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr.