Joshua Boyle, a Canadian, his American wife Caitlan Coleman and their three children, were freed from a five-year long captivity in Pakistan last Wednesday and arrived in Canada on Friday night. Pakistani forces, acting on intelligence received from the U.S., rescued the family while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said no ransom was paid for their release, as per Canadian government policy. Also, the Canadian government said in a statement that it joined the Boyle family “in rejoicing over the long-awaited return to Canada of their loved ones.”
However, there remains some unanswered questions about the couple’s experience. They were kidnapped by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network in 2012 during a backpacking trip to Afghanistan. Coleman was pregnant at the time and gave birth to that child and two other children in captivity. During this time, the families of the captives were repeatedly questioned on why Boyle and a pregnant Coleman had gone backpacking in such a dangerous region. Furthermore, Boyle was briefly married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a senior al-Qaida financier, in the 2000s.
Hence, some observers had suggested that he refused to board an American military plane on Thursday, flying to the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad instead, out of fear that he would be arrested due to his links to the Khadr family. Boyle’s father however insisted that his son did not want to board the plane simply because it was headed to Bagram Air Base and the family wanted to return directly to North America. Boyle told journalists a similar story at Pearson International Airport just hours after landing in Toronto, noting that “I assure you I have never refused to board any mode of transportation that would bring me closer to home, closer to Canada and back with my family.”
Boyle also told journalists at the airport that his wife had been raped and their infant daughter murdered, and he called for the Afghan government to find his captors and punish them for their actions. However, a Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, has released a statement denying that Coleman was raped and her daughter murdered. He claimed that she’d had a “natural miscarriage” after an illness that couldn’t be treated because they were in a remote area with no doctors. Boyle also told journalists that he had gone to Afghanistan to help “the most neglected minority group in the world, those ordinary villagers who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.”
In subsequent interviews, their three children boys – aged four and two, and an infant daughter – who were born in captivity – are said to be adjusting to life on the outside. While Canadian and U.S. authorities have noted that Boyle is not under investigation, their case underscores the dangers of visiting unsafe regions. U.S. officials have said several other Americans are being held by militant groups in Afghanistan or Pakistan.