An American woman and her Canadian husband, along with their children, have been freed by Pakistani forces after five years of being held by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. But conflicting stories have emerged as to how the rescue went down.
Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were freed on Wednesday by Pakistani forces. The Pakistani government claims the family was rescued in a hostile takeover, while the US rejects those claims.
Coleman and Boyle are currently in Pakistan awaiting transportation out of the country. So far Boyle has declined to board any aircraft, despite the family being offered a US-sanctioned plane on Thursday, unnamed American officials told NBC News.
The couple and their children, who were born in captivity, were with workers at the US embassy in Pakistan when Boyle refused to board the plane, according to another unnamed US official, NBC News reported.
The Pakistani military stated it had been alerted by US officials that the family was being moved by the Haqqani network across the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan. It said that was the stage at which Pakistani intelligence and infantry personnel surrounded the vehicle, according to NBC News.
“The vehicle was immobilized with sharp shooting. We destroyed their tires. The hostages remained inside the vehicle. The driver, and an accomplice, managed to escape to a nearby refugee camp. There is a search operation underway for them right now,” a spokesman for the Pakistani military, Major General Asif Ghafoor, told NBC News.
“We moved the hostages via helicopter to Islamabad. They were then handed over to US authorities.”
Ghafoor also said that the kidnappers driving the vehicle fled the scene on foot after the confrontation, the Wall Street Journal reported.
US officials, however, deny there was a hostile confrontation leading to the release of the family. One unnamed official said the family’s release was more of a diplomatic handover situation, according to NBC News.
“The United States government, working in conjunction with the government of Pakistan, secured the release of the Boyle-Coleman family from captivity in Pakistan,” President Donald Trump said on Thursday.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly commented on the rescue at a news conference on Thursday and said that Pakistan rescued the family from “forces of evil,” adding, “They’ve been essentially living in a hole for five years.”
Lyn Coleman, Caitlan’s mother, described the moment she found out her daughter had been released from her kidnappers.
“The US government called us Wednesday afternoon,” she said, the Guardian reported. “They told me to sit down and then they told me what had happened. All they told me was that they were in ‘friendly hands’.”
However, Boyle’s parents, Linda and Patrick Boyle, said their son told them he and his family had been caught in the middle of a shootout before the rescue, seemingly backing up the Pakistani government’s side of the story.
Boyle called his parents early on Thursday morning to notify them of his safety, according to the Toronto Star. He told them he was in the trunk of his kidnappers’ car with his wife and children when a firefight broke out between Pakistani forces and the kidnappers.
During the shootout, Boyle told his relatives that the last words he heard before the incident ended, were his kidnappers shouting “kill the hostages,” according to the Daily Mail.
The kidnappers were killed, while Boyle was left with minor shrapnel wounds, the Star reported.
The Boyles said their son did not like the idea of going to the American airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan, to board a plane home. Instead, he wanted to fly out from the Canadian High Commission in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, the Star reported.
The parents also addressed the Canadian citizen’s reluctance to take the US plane out of the Middle East. They said Boyle fears he will face recriminations for his past marriage to Canadian citizen Zaynab Khadr, who is the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr.
Khadr spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to 2010 for war crimes against the US he denies he committed.
It is unclear whether or not the family’s kidnapping occurred because of Boyle’s history with Khadr, but unnamed military sources say Boyle was previously questioned in Canada over his ties to Khadr’s family, the Daily Mail reported.
Coleman and Boyle are reportedly traumatized from their time as prisoners of the Haqqani network. However, they are physically healthy and recovering from the situation.
“Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison,” Patrick Boyle said early on Thursday, according to the Star.
Coleman and Boyle embarked on what was to be a six-month journey through Central Asia in 2012, but the trip ended in their eventual kidnapping in Afghanistan by the Haqqani network. Coleman was pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time of their capture.