Parents of Stewartstown woman rescued from militants angry with son-in-law
WASHINGTON — The parents of an American woman freed with her family after five years of captivity say they are elated, but also angry at their son-in law for taking their daughter to Afghanistan.
“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, told ABC News.
Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were abducted by a Taliban-linked extremist network in October 2012 while on a backpacking trip that took them to Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan. She was pregnant at the time and had three children in captivity.
Two Pakistani security officials say the family left by plane from Islamabad on Friday. The officials did not say where the family was headed, but Boyle’s family has said the couple’s plan is to return to Canada. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with official protocol.
Caitlan Coleman is from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, and Boyle is Canadian. She was “naive,” but also “adventuresome” with a humanitarian bent, her father told the AP in 2012.
Jim Coleman said in the ABC interview he didn’t understand why Boyle had refused to let his family leave the region on a U.S. military plane, which complicated their exit from the country. The father said that, if he had seen an American aircraft after being held captive, he’d be “running for it.”
Still Coleman’s mother, Lynda, said the opportunity to finally speak to her daughter after she was freed was “incredible.”
“I’ve been waiting to hear that voice for so long. And then to hear her voice and have it sound exactly like the last time I talked to her,” she said.
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 turning a blind eye to groups like the Haqqani network, which was holding the family. Earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump warned Pakistan to stop harboring militants.
On Thursday, Trump praised Pakistan for its willingness to “do more to provide security in the region” and said the release suggests other “countries are starting to respect the United States of America once again.”
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 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.
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.
Boyle’s father said his son did not want to board the plane because it was headed to Bagram Air Base and that 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.
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 center 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.
The couple told U.S. officials and their families they wanted to fly commercially to Canada.
“They’ve made that clear and everybody on both sides the border knows that and they are working on that very hard,” Boyle’s father said.
Coleman’s parents last had a conversation with their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, via an email sent from an internet cafe he’d described as being in an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan. From then on, there were only desperate hostage videos released by their captors and hand-scrawled letters mailed home.
“I pray to hear from you again, to hear how everybody is doing,” read one letter the parents shared with the online Circa News service in July 2016, in which Coleman revealed she’d given birth to a second child in captivity. It’s unclear whether they knew she’d had a third.
Boyle’s parents say their son told them in a letter that he and his wife pretended to the children that signs of their captivity were part of a game being played with guards.
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.
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.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said her country was “greatly relieved” the family was safe, and she thanked the U.S., Afghan and Pakistani governments for their efforts.
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 traveled to the region several times but disappeared in eastern Afghanistan in mid-2014.
— Ahmed reported from Islamabad, Gillies from Toronto. Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Matthew Lee in Washington, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Lolita C. Baldor in Tampa, Florida, contributed.