The parents of an American woman who was rescued with her Canadian husband and three children after five years in captivity have said they were elated that the family is safe – but incensed with their son-in-law for taking their daughter to .
“Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable,” Caitlan Coleman’s father, Jim, .
Coleman, Joshua Boyle and their children – all of whom were born in captivity – landed in London on Friday afternoon, en route to Canada. Earlier in the day, Boyle spoke to his parents by telephone, telling them that
Speaking to a Canadian reporter on Thursday, Boyle reflected on the toll the past five years had taken. “My family is obviously psychologically and physically shattered by the betrayals and the criminality of what has happened over the past five years,” Boyle .
“But we’re looking forward to a new lease on life – to use an overused idiom – and restarting and being able to build a sanctuary for our children and our family in North America.” With a laugh, he added: “I have discovered there is little that cannot be overcome by enough Sufi patience, Irish irreverence and Canadian sanctimony.”
Canadian American family rescued after five years as captives in Afghanistan
The couple – who met as teenagers online and bonded over their love of Star Wars fan sites – that began in Russia and took them through Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before arriving in northern Afghanistan.
Coleman was pregnant with their first child at the time. The couple were believed to be held by the , a group deemed a terrorist organisation by the US.
Boyle, now 34, had long been fascinated with terrorism and national security, telling a reporter in 2009: “Anything related to terrorism on Wikipedia I wrote, pretty much.” Years earlier he had become a spokesman for Omar Khadr, after being captured as a teenager during a firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan, leading to a brief marriage with Zaynab Khadr, Omar’s sister.
The family’s ordeal ended with a dramatic rescue on Wednesday. Pakistani troops, operating on intelligence provided by the United States, had zeroed in on the family, locating them in a fast-moving vehicle near the town of Kohat, some 40 miles from the country’s north-western border with .
At the time, the family was locked in the trunk of a car, Boyle told his family. The last words he heard were “kill the hostages” before a shootout erupted, leaving him with a shrapnel wound.
Pakistani troops fired at the vehicle, bursting its tyres. While they managed to free the hostages, the couple’s captors, however, eluded them, managing to escape on foot.
Soon after the rescue, arrangements were made to bring the family back to North America, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told reporters on Thursday. “Medical treatment along the way. A lot of this, of course, would be psychological treatment,” he said. “They’ve been essentially living in a hole for five years.”
In Smiths Falls, Ontario, a small town of 9,000 people near Ottawa, Boyle’s parents rejoiced at the news that the family was safe, telling reporters that the family intended to come to .
As they prepared for the family’s return – heading to purchase car seats as they waited to hear when the family would be landing in Canada – they also expressed misgivings for the future.
“I think they’re going to have some, obviously, really tough times,” said Boyle’s mother, Linda. “I don’t think they’re aware because they kept themselves strong for so long, for each other and for the kids. But I think that it’s going to catch up with them and they’re probably going to have some real crashes, I expect. But we’re here for them.”
The past five years had been punctuated by letters and videos from the couple, each offering a glimpse into the horrors the couple were living.
A video to negotiate with their captors. “My children have seen their mother defiled,” Coleman told the camera flatly. She described their years-long ordeal as “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves”.
A letter sent to Boyle’s parents last year detailed the lengths the couple had gone to in order to deliver their second child; hiding the pregnancy from captors until Boyle delivered the child in darkness, guided only by a flashlight clenched between his teeth.
“The astonished captors were good and brought all our post-partum needs, so he is now fat and healthy, praise God,” Boyle wrote in the letter to his parents. “We are trying to keep spirits high for the children and play Beautiful Life,” he added, believed to be a reference to Life is Beautiful, the Italian film in which a father shields his son from the realities of a Nazi concentration camp by pretending they are in a game.
In Pennsylvania, the Colemans described their joy at hearing their daughter’s voice over the phone for the first time in years. But her father Jim added that he was angry with Boyle for taking his daughter to Afghanistan.
He also expressed dismay at reports that Boyle had refused to allow the family to leave on a US military plane on Thursday. “I don’t know what five years in captivity would do to somebody, but if it were me, and I saw a US aircraft, US soldiers, I would be running for it.”
Boyle’s father said on Thursday that his son did not want to board the plane because it was headed to the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan rather than North America. He dismissed remarks by a US official that Boyle was concerned that he might face scrutiny by the Americans over his links to Khadr.
News of the rescue was heralded on Thursday by Donald Trump, who described it as a “positive moment” in the country’s fraught relationship with Pakistan.
“Today they are free,” the US president said in a statement. He later praised Pakistan for its willingness to “do more to provide security in the region”, adding that the rescue suggested other “countries are starting to respect the United States of America once again”.