They are free and safe, but the scars from five years held hostage by a ruthless group linked to the Taliban run deep and raw.
Joshua Boyle, his wife, Caitlan Coleman, and their three children are now sheltered in Boyle’s parents’ home in Smiths Falls, Ont. In an interview on Sunday, Boyle described their kidnappers’ apparent motives, the conditions of their confinement and the final moments of their rescue last Wednesday.
Boyle, a Canadian, and Coleman, a U.S. citizen, had been married just a year when they embarked on a backpacking tour of Central Asia in the summer and fall of 2012. Of his decision to go to Afghanistan, Boyle said he felt propelled by a sense of mission — to help people, “to fix things.”
Coleman was pregnant with the couple’s first child in October 2012. They had travelled to an Afghan village where they felt mostly safe except for the unwanted attentions of one man who targeted them.
They ended up in the hands of the Haqqani network, a militant group closely linked to the Taliban that is based in North Waziristan, a region of northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. The group, which was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. in 2012, has a long and brutal record of kidnappings for financial and political gain.
Boyle said, after such a long time being held prisoner, he trusts no one.
He said he was interrogated many times. The first time, his captors wanted to know one thing before making their ransom demands: who was he working for?
Over the course of five years, now with young children, the family was moved between 23 different locations, sometimes stopping only for days. All of the places were within 50 kilometres of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and they spent time in both countries.
Often, they were transferred in the trunk of a car and frequently drugged with the anesthetic ketamine. They were held in kuchi huts, abandoned homes, one-room underground dungeons or homes purpose-built for Haqqani guards.
Coleman has remained private since the family arrived back in Canada. Boyle told CBC News that his wife had been raped, an allegation he first made soon after touching down at Pearson airport in Toronto Friday.
In the interview with CBC, he clarified that his captors had forced an abortion, authorized at the highest levels of the Haqqani network. He vigorously dismissed Taliban claims on the weekend that he and Coleman were never separated.
Boyle described in the interview how last Wednesday, guards came for them and bundled the family into a car — parents in the trunk with their infant daughter, separated by a partition from their two boys, ages two and four respectively.
Boyle was given the news that they were going to be freed almost five years to the day of their capture. But as they approached a checkpoint in Pakistan, guards asked to open the trunk and the captors’ car sped away with several vehicles in pursuit. A gun battle followed.
Boyle says he is deeply grateful for the Pakistani special forces who helped save him and his family.
“They really were amazing,” he told CBC News.
His three children are now being showered with love at their grandparents’ home in Smiths Falls, he said. Over the weekend, Boyle wrote to CBC that his youngest, Grace, is being cuddled by relatives, “discovering a half dozen new founts of love.”