Rescued hostages home in Canada, getting medical exams

In this image from video released by Taliban Media in December 2016, Caitlan Coleman talks in the video while her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle holds their two children. U.S. officials said Pakistan secured the release of Coleman of Stewartstown, Pa., and her husband, who were abducted five years ago while traveling in Afghanistan and then were held by the Haqqani network. Coleman was pregnant when she was captured. The couple had three children while in captivity, and all have been freed, U.S. officials said. (Taliban Media via AP)

TORONTO (AP) — Former hostage Joshua Boyle returned Saturday to his parents’ home in Canada where he said full medical exams were being arranged for him and his family after they were rescued from their captors, the Taliban-linked extremist Haqqani network in Afghanistan.

Boyle said earlier at Toronto’s airport after landing with his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, and three young children that the network killed their newborn daughter and raped his wife during the five years they were held in captivity.

“The stupidity and evil of the Haqqani network’s kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter,” he said.

The couple was rescued Wednesday, five years after they were abducted by the extremist network while in Afghanistan as part of a backpacking trip. Coleman was pregnant at the time and had four children in captivity. The birth of the fourth child had not been publicly known before Boyle appeared before journalists at the Toronto airport.

Boyle said his wife was raped by a guard who was assisted by his superiors, and he asked the Afghan government to bring them to justice.

“God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network,” he said.

Boyle said he was in Afghanistan to help villagers “who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where no NGO, no aid worker and no government has ever successfully been able to bring the necessary help.”

After returning to his parents’ home in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Boyle emailed The Associated Press a new statement saying they had “reached the first true ‘home’ that the children have ever known — after they spent most of Friday asking if each subsequent airport was our new house hopefully.”

“Our daughter has had a cursory medical exam last night, and hospital staff were enthusiastically insistent that her chances seemed miraculously high based on a quick physical. Full medical work-ups for each member of my family are being arranged right now, and God-willing the healing process — physically and mentally can begin.”

Earlier, on a plane from London, Coleman, who is from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, sat in the business-class cabin wearing a tan headscarf.

She nodded wordlessly as she confirmed her identity to a reporter on board the flight. Next to her were her two elder children. In the seat beyond that was Boyle, with their youngest child in his lap. U.S. State Department officials were also on the plane with them.

Boyle provided a separate, handwritten statement then expressing disagreement with U.S. foreign policy.

“God has given me and my family unparalleled resilience and determination, and to allow that to stagnate, to pursue personal pleasure or comfort while there is still deliberate and organized injustice in the world would be a betrayal of all I believe, and tantamount to sacrilege,” he wrote.

He nodded toward one of the State Department officials and said, “Their interests are not my interests.”

Boyle added that one of his children was in poor health and had to be force-fed by their Pakistani rescuers.

The family left the plane with their escorts before the rest of the passengers.

“It will be of incredible importance to my family that we are able to build a secure sanctuary for our three surviving children to call a home,” Boyle said at the airport. “To try to regain some portion of the childhood that they have lost.”

Dan Boyle, his younger brother, said outside the family home in Smiths Falls that he had spoken to his brother a few times in recent days.

“He’s doing very well. He sounds a lot like how he sounded five years ago. He sounds like he had his head on his shoulders and his wits about him,” he said.

The Canadian government said in a statement that it would “continue to support him and his family now that they have returned.”

“Today, we join the Boyle family in rejoicing over the long-awaited return to Canada of their loved ones,” the Canadian government said.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, said the Pakistani raid that led to the rescue was based on a tip from U.S. intelligence and shows that Pakistan will act against a “common enemy” when Washington shares information.

U.S. officials have long accused Pakistan of ignoring groups like the Haqqani network.

Washington considers it a terrorist organization and has targeted its leaders with drone strikes. But the Haqqani group also operates like a criminal network. Unlike the Islamic State group, it typically does not execute Western hostages, preferring to ransom them for cash.

A U.S. national security official, who was not authorized to discuss operational details of the release and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. obtained actionable information, passed it to Pakistani officials, asked them to interdict and recover the hostages — and they did.

President Donald Trump, who previously had warned Pakistan to stop harboring militants, praised the country for its “cooperation on many fronts.” He said Friday on Twitter that the U.S. is starting to develop “a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders.”

The operation appears to have unfolded quickly and ended with what some described as a dangerous raid, a shootout and a captor’s final, terrifying threat to “kill the hostage.” Boyle told his parents that he, his wife and their children were intercepted by Pakistani forces while being transported in the back or trunk of their captors’ car and that some of his captors were killed. He suffered only a shrapnel wound, his family said.

U.S. officials did not confirm those details.

A U.S. military official said that a military hostage team had flown to Pakistan Wednesday prepared to fly the family out. The team did a preliminary health assessment and had a transport plane ready to go, but sometime after daybreak Thursday, as the family members were walking to the plane, Boyle said he did not want to board, the official said.

Boyle’s father said his son did not want to board the plane because it was headed to Bagram Air Base and the family wanted to return directly to North America. Another U.S. official said Boyle was nervous about being in “custody” given his family ties.

He was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a senior al-Qaida financier. Her father, the late Ahmed Said Khadr, and the family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.

The Canadian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight and was taken to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Officials had discounted any link between that background and Boyle’s capture, with one describing it in 2014 as a “horrible coincidence.”

The U.S. Justice Department said neither Boyle nor Coleman is wanted for any federal crime.

U.S. officials have said several other Americans are being held by militant groups in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

They include Kevin King, 60, a teacher at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul who was abducted in August 2016, and Paul Overby, an author in his 70s who disappeared in eastern Afghanistan in 2014.

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AP writer Martin Benedyk contributed reporting from the plane, and Jill Colvin contributed from Washington. Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Matthew Lee in Washington, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Patrick Lejtenyi in Smiths Falls, Ontario, and Lolita C. Baldor in Tampa, Florida, also contributed.

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