After being held for over five years by a group with ties to the Taliban, an American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children have been rescued.
Caitlan Coleman of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, were abducted while traveling in Afghanistan in 2012. Coleman gave birth to her three children while in captivity.
U.S. and Pakistani officials said today they were rescued by an “intelligence-based operation by Pakistan troops” after they’d crossed the border from Afghanistan.
A look at what we know, and what we don’t know, about the couple, their rescue and what happens next:
WHY THEY WERE IN AFGHANISTAN?
Exactly why the couple chose to enter Afghanistan isn’t clear.
Sarah Flood, a hometown friend of Coleman’s, told the York Daily Record that Afghanistan wasn’t on the couple’s original itinerary. Jim Coleman, Caitlan Coleman’s father, told the newspaper in 2014 that while they were in central Asia, the couple met people who spoke highly of Afghanistan.
A fellow traveler who met the couple in a hostel in Kyrgyzstan wrote on his blog that Boyle had been talking up the idea of traveling to Afghanistan, saying it was a place for true explorers and the window to visit was closing since it would only get less secure once U.S. forces withdrew.
WHO WAS HOLDING THEM?
Members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, kidnapped the couple near Kabul.
The network is believed to command thousands of fighters.
Both U.S and Afghan intelligence agencies say Pakistan’s intelligence network has allowed the Haqqanis to live freely for decades in Pakistan’s tribal regions, a claim Islamabad denies.
The network was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a one-time ally of the United States who achieved fame fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and who developed close ties to the slain al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. After his death, his son Sirajuddin Haqqani took over.
The elder Haqqani aligned his group with the Taliban after the insurgents were driven from power in the U.S.-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
HOW WERE THEY RELEASED?
Pakistani commandos carried out a raid when the family and their captors crossed the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan.
The Toronto Star reported that Boyle told his parents that he was in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car with his wife and children, when the Pakistani forces rescued them. The paper reported there was a shootout and Boyle said the last words he heard from the kidnappers were, “kill the hostages.”
Coleman’s father Jim told ABC News he was tipped off Wednesday that good news would be coming about his daughter and she was in safe hands.
No ransom was paid, according to a Canadian official.
The family was flown by helicopter to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
WHO ARE THEY?
Caitlin Coleman grew up a devout Catholic in tiny Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. Joshua Boyle attended a Mennonite school in Canada. The two, described as well-meaning but naive adventurers, were introduced by a friend and started their relationship online.
Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a late senior al-Qaida financier.
Her father, Ahmed Said Khadr, and the family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy. Khadr’s Egyptian-born father was killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al-Qaida operatives.
The Canadian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of an American special forces medic, U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer.
Khadr, who was suspected of throwing the grenade that killed Speer, was taken to Guantanamo and ultimately charged with war crimes by a military commission. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included murder and was sentenced to eight years plus the time he had already spent in custody.
WHAT DON’T WE KNOW?
It’s not clear why Pakistani forces acted to free the couple and their children. The family’s precise whereabouts were unclear as of this evening, and it was not immediately known when they would return to North America. The family was not in U.S. custody. Earlier today, Boyle refused to get on a U.S. transport plane that was prepared to take him and his family out of Pakistan. A U.S. official said Boyle was nervous about being in “custody” given his background.