An American woman, a Canadian man and their three children have been released after being held captive for five years by a guerrilla group in Pakistan with ties to the Taliban, according to Pakistani and US officials.
In the summer of 2012, Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were traveling from Russia through the central Asian countries of Kazahkstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgystan, and then into Afghanistan, when they were kidnapped by the Haqqani Network while backpacking in a rural mountainous area. The last time Coleman’s parents heard from the couple was in October 2012. In 2013, two videos featuring the couple asking the US government to free them were released by the Haqqanis. Coleman and Boyle were last seen in a hostage video in this past January.
“If we all come out of this safely and alive, it will be a miracle,” Coleman said in the video.
Coleman, pregnant at the time of the abduction, had three children while in captivity. US officials say Pakistan secured the release of the couple and all three children.
US intelligence agencies tracking the group reported to Pakistan military officials the couple had been brought into Pakistan yesterday (Oct. 11) through tribal lands on the border, according to the Pakistani military. Their release came almost exactly five years after Boyle and Coleman were first captured. It is unclear if any ransom was paid to the terrorist group.
“All hostages were recovered safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin,” the Pakistan military said.
The Haqqani Network is considered a terrorist organization by the US, which has long criticized Pakistan for not going after the group more aggressively. The Haqqani Network has been behind many brutal attacks in Afghanistan, targeting US military personnel as well as Afghanis. The group has been linked to the Taliban and has many ideological similarities, however the Haqqanis are believed to be motivated more by money than faith. They usually negotiate ransom for hostages rather than executing them for political reasons, as is a common Islamic State practice.
“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” president Donald Trump said in an August speech outlining a new US military strategy in Afghanistan. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars. At the same time, they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.”
Yesterday, in Coleman’s home state of Pennsylvania, Trump hinted at news of the release. “Something happened today, where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news,” he said. “And one of my generals came in. They said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would’ve never done that.’ It was a great sign of respect. You’ll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.”
The freeing of the couple and their children “underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment towards fighting this menace through cooperation between two forces against a common enemy,” Pakistani officials said.
US intelligence officials have praised the Pakistan military for their critical help, saying the joint operation is an important step in improving US-Pakistani relations.