The American woman kidnapped in alongside her Canadian husband and held hostage for five years has disputed the official account of their rescue and explained why she and her husband decided to have more children while in captivity.
“It was a decision we made,” Caitlan Coleman “We did think about it and talk about it and it’s difficult to explain all the reasons, but, for me, a large part was the fact that it has always been important to me to have a large family.”
Parents of freed US hostage furious with son-in-law for Afghanistan trip
Coleman, Joshua Boyle and their three children were rescued earlier this month after in 2012 while travelling through a mountainous region of Afghanistan. Coleman was in the third trimester of pregnancy at the time.
She said she was aware of the while pregnant and later have two more children while they were being held captive by the Haqqani network, a group deemed a terrorist organisation by the US.
“This took our life away from us – this captivity with no end in sight,” said Coleman, “And so I felt that it was our best choice at that time. We didn’t know if we would have that opportunity when we came back. We didn’t know how long it would be. It was already unprecedented, so we couldn’t say, ‘Oh, we’ll only be here a year or six months.”
Shortly after he and his family landed in Canada, Boyle, 34, of raping Coleman and murdering their infant daughter.
Speaking to the Star, Coleman said their kidnappers had forced her to have an abortion after Boyle rejected attempts by the Haqqani network to recruit him. “They were very angry because Joshua had been asked to join them, to work for them, and he said no,” she said.
After she lost the baby – whom the couple named Martyr – she said her captors bragged about what they had done. “They killed her by dosing the food. They put massive doses of estrogen in the food.”
The Taliban has denied these claims, saying in a statement that the couple had a “natural miscarriage” after contracting an illness that could not be treated in the rural area they were being held.
Since returning to Canada, – particularly their eldest – adjust to their first taste of freedom.
“He doesn’t actually understand that there is a sun outside,” Boyle “We’re dealing with the basics. It’s not ‘welcome to the western world’, it’s not ‘welcome to Canada’, it’s ‘welcome to life’.”
Coleman, who continues to wear a hijab, declined to answer whether she had converted to Islam. She also shied away from speaking openly about her years in captivity.
But she was keen to set the record straight about where the family had been held. She expressed concern that facts were being wielded as a political tool.
“Right now everybody’s shunting blame and making claims. Pakistan says: no, they were never in Pakistan, until the end. The US says: no, they were always in – it was Pakistan’s responsibility. But neither of those are true,” she told the Toronto Star.
Coleman disputed the Pakistan’s army assertion that the family was rescued after being brought over the border from Afghanistan. “We were not crossing into Pakistan that day. We had been in Pakistan for more than a year at that point.”
During their ordeal, she said the family was drugged and put in the trunk of a car several times and moved across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Relying on Boyle’s rudimentary understanding of Farsi, the couple was able to track some of their movements.
At one point they were held for more than a year in Miran Shah, the main town in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district, she said. “It was very bad. My husband and I were separated at that time.” Boyle was not allowed to see his son, Najaeshi Jonah, or spend any time with her, Coleman added.
They were then moved north, to the house of a man who told them his name was Mahmoud. “He was very nice to Najaeshi and would provide us with amenities we wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “He would take Najaeshi out to get him sunlight and nobody else did that at any other point.”
The forced abortion and rape happened sometime in 2014 or 2015 after it was discovered that the couple had been writing messages in hopes of finding help.
“We had a pen they didn’t know about and we were taking little scraps of paper and trying to hand out notes to anyone and everyone that wasn’t one of the guards or commanders involved in killing Martyr,” Coleman said. “But then they took us, separated us, and beat us and that was when the assault on me happened because they wanted us to stop.”
Their captors continued to move the family – they were brought to Spin Ghar in Afghanistan and later to what seemed to be a hotel in sight of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
In early October, the family was again placed in the trunk of a car belonging to their captors. They listened as what appeared to be a car chase and a gun battle rang out around them. “Our first fear – why we were not poking our heads up and yelling for help – was that it was another gang trying to kidnap us,” she said. “Possibly just part of the Haqqani network fighting with another part. They’re all just bandits.”
Coleman later realised that it was Pakistani forces who had come to rescue her and her family. “You’re a prisoner for so long, you’re so suspicious, I was still thinking we don’t know these people, we don’t know where they’re taking us.”
She said she couldn’t remember how she reacted after learning that after five years of captivity, she and her family’s ordeal was finally over. “I think I was mostly just in shock.”