After five years in captivity, a Canadian man and his family finally returned to Canada last Friday. Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman were kidnapped in Afghanistan in October 2012 by terrorists from the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. They were freed Thursday, October 12 by Pakistani forces carried out based on US intelligence.
When he returned to Canada Friday, Boyle made a statement detailing some of his experiences over the last five years along with a harrowing description of their rescue, but a Taliban spokesman has denied Boyle’s claims.
Boyle told the press that conditions during the five-year ordeal changed as the family was shuffled among at least three prisons, ranging from “remarkably barbaric” to more comfortable to a place of extreme violence. He alleges that in the third prison, he and his wife were frequently separated and beaten. He demanded that his abductors be punished for their crimes, which include raping his wife and authorizing the murder of his daughter. According to Boyle, the murder was in retaliation for his refusal to accept an offer from the kidnappers, but did not elaborate on what the offer entailed.
However, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the terrorist organization responsible, released a statement saying that Caitlan Coleman had a “natural miscarriage” after an illness that couldn’t be treated because they were in a remote area with no doctors. “No one has either intentionally murdered the child of this couple neither has anyone violated or defiled them,” Mujahid said. He went on to say that Boyle and Coleman were never separated because the kidnappers “did not want to incite any suspicion.”
I don’t doubt that Haqqani and the Taliban are attempting damage control, but I honestly find the whole situation jarring and strange. Truthfully, I’m not quite sure what to make of the story.
At the time of their kidnapping, Coleman was five months pregnant and gave birth to a son while imprisoned. In fact, she went on to have another son and two daughters (although only one of the daughters survived) who were brought back to Canada. Coleman has yet to make a public statement regarding her experience or the crimes, but Boyle has been a virtual open book. He and his parents have provided unprecedented access to the press, with the Toronto Star even allowed into their Smith Falls home to interview and take photos of the family’s first weekend in Ontario.
“My family is obviously psychologically and physically shattered by the betrayals and the criminality of what has happened over the past five years,” Boyle told the Star.
But it’s unclear how it all came to pass in the first place. Coleman’s father, Jim Coleman, has publicly lashed out at his son-in-law over the decision to travel in a war zone.
“All I can say is taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, it’s unconscionable,” he said. Except Boyle and Coleman were supposedly on a trip through Central Asia according to a video interview with Coleman’s parents, so it’s unclear how they ended up in Afghanistan as it was never on their itinerary. It’s believed they were in the Wardak province at the time of the kidnapping, an area well-known for it’s Taliban control. Boyle states that he was “in Afghanistan helping the most neglected minority group in the world,” and his friend Alex Edwards confirmed in a blog post that Boyle and Coleman had spent some time doing freelance aid work previously.
“We can’t know for sure, but they probably meant to do much the same in Afghanistan and a number of other Central Asian nations,” Edwards wrote, discussing how Boyle and Coleman ended up in the war zone. “What’s even less clear is why they thought this was a good idea. Joshua has a loose connection to Afghanistan, a deep respect for Islam - he may even have been in the process of converting - and a purely academic interest in terrorism, but none of that even remotely qualifies him to travel safely in Afghanistan. It could have been simple naivete, but I, and many others, have always known Joshua as an exceptionally cunning and savvy man. Maybe he was overconfident. Maybe he was immature. Maybe this time Joshua just bit off more than he could chew.”
Boyles’ loose connection to Afghanistan? Not exactly insignificant. He used to be married to Zaynab Khadr. She is the eldest daughter of Ahmed Said Khadr - a man accused by both the US and Canada of being an associate and financier for Al-Qaeda, and the father of Omar Khadr. Ahmed Khadr studied at the University of Ottawa, and moved his family between Canada, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Zaynab Khadr was an outspoken defender of both her father and her brother. For those who don’t know, Omar Khadr was captured as a 15-year-old fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and charged with killing an American soldier (he has since been released after a decade in prison and awarded 10.5 million dollars by the Canadian government for violating his charter rights). It was Omar who first captured the attention of Boyle, a University of Waterloo graduate. He had no connection to the family, but introduced himself and volunteered to help them in their fight to have Omar released. He even acted as a spokesman for the Khadr family in 2008 when Zaynab staged a hunger strike on Parliament Hill to protest her brother’s detention.
Boyle, then 25, married 29-year-old Zaynab the following year. It was his first, but her third marriage. Although I was unable to verify or find other details regarding her previously arranged marriages, it’s been reported that her first husband was thought to be a conspirator in a bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan, and that Osama Bin Laden was one of the guests at her second wedding in Afghanistan. That little detail blew up in the media when, in 2004, Zaynab criticized the way children were raised in North America and suggested that the September 11th terror attacks were justified. In an email exchange with a Postmedia reporter, Boyle defended his wife for her remarks before their marriage, saying that no one can accurately judge the character of a person they’ve never met.
“Are any of us honestly able to say that we have never uttered any phrases which, if they ran beside our name in the paper every month for five years, would paint an unflattering mental image in the public perception?”
A few months after they married though, intruders broke into the west-end Ottawa home of his parents, Linda and Patrick Boyle. Patrick Boyle was a federal tax court judge at the time. The front door was smashed, the building ransacked and bullet holes were left throughout the house. Thankfully, the Boyles were away at the time, but Joshua Boyle believed the break-in was connected to his marriage.
“I’m sure I don’t have to speculate for you the meaning of .22 calibre bullets fired from close range through residential windows following an unwarranted break-in by an intruder who left behind all the jewelry, cash and valuables in the house,” he wrote to Postmedia. “Perhaps somebody is unhappy that the Boyles are highlighting to the public just how human the Khadrs really are.” At the time, he was living in Toronto with Zaynab and her daughter from a previous marriage.
They divorced in 2010, and no sources can find definitive reasons why. Boyle’s friend, Edwards, notes that they drifted apart despite their original shared love of Star Wars. This love of Star Wars allowed him to meet Caitlan Coleman though, through fan sites, and he married her a year later. According to the Inquirer, Coleman was home-schooled in rural Stewartstown, PA, and friends described her as “a woman shaped by rural values, with a big-hearted curiosity about the wider world.” The pair married while on a hike through Central America.
What really bugs me is, doesn’t that sound like a classic recruitment technique? Someone who may feel isolated after being home-schooled meets someone who sweeps her off of her feet and takes her on trips around the world? Of course, I’m not claiming that Boyle is working for an organization. There’s no proof for that. But according to Edwards, his most interesting projects dealt with extremists. He wrote about Nazis, terrorists, and killers - not because he sympathized with them, but “because he thought it was important for people to understand them. He hated that people could be reduced to sound-bytes and caricatures because it killed critical thinking.”
That, I can agree with. Critical thinking is severely lacking in most media platforms and even everyday conversations. But using my critical thinking skills, there are just too many questions with the story right now for me to take it at face value.
I’m happy that the family has been released, I really am. The military statement issued from Pakistan’s army said that four soldiers died and three more were wounded who were taking part in a search operation for the militants holding the American-Canadian family. And I think their role in the whole situation is clear: after President Donald Trump claimed Pakistan was aiding and helping terrorists, they wanted to make it clear that this was not the case. But Boyle’s story of “at least three prisons” seems strange to me. Wouldn’t you remember how many prisons they moved you to? Especially if you were constantly being separated from your wife and tortured? Beaten? Although, I guess blocking traumatic experiences is a natural thing. But Boyle’s unwillingness to discuss the offer that made the Haqqani authorize the murder of his daughter raises a major red flag for me. I would presume that it was an offer to join their cause, join their forces, as that is really the only thing that makes sense after an extended period of time in captivity. And it would make sense that his refusal would piss them off enough to want to hurt his family. If he refused this offer, why wouldn’t he publicize it? Or maybe it was something detrimental to his wife - but why wouldn’t he discuss it? God forbid I agree with a terrorist, but the Taliban spokesman raised a good point: he said that Boyle and Coleman are now “in the hands of the enemy” and the statement Boyle gave was “force fed” to him. And that does make me question how much of Boyle’s statement was written by him or written by someone else.
Boyle refused his initial flight home on an American military plane, claiming fear over his Khadr connection since the plane was set to fly into the Bagram US base. He waited until he could fly home on a Canadian commercial flight, which makes sense considering how Omar was detained illegally without charges for years. But it also gives more time to craft an especially shocking statement.
Of course, one of the biggest questions I have is why the couple continued to have children even though they were hostages. Boyle told the Associated Press that the couple decided to not waste their hostage time.
“We’re sitting as hostages with a lot of time on our hands,” Boyle wrote in an emailed statement. “We always wanted as many as possible, and we didn’t want to waste time. Cait’s in her 30s, the clock is ticking...Honestly, we’ve always planned to have a family of 5, 10, 12 children...We’re Irish, haha.”
What? You just finished telling us you and your wife were repeatedly beaten, and she was raped by the kidnappers. Although you didn’t specify whether there were multiple rapes, the fact that you continued sexual contact with your wife after that violation makes me raise my eyebrows. I’m neither a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I’m extremely surprised by that decision. Besides the fact that his explanation makes it sound like they just had sex because they were bored, Boyle and Coleman’s decision to expand their family while in captivity is just strange. Their children have never experienced freedom, sunlight or working toilets according to Boyle, but they decided that it was a good time to have children?
Honestly, I have no sweeping conclusions to make about this story. I have too many unanswered questions, and Boyle sudden appearance in the media following such an ordeal just makes me raise my eyebrows. The details he has shared don’t seem to add up, and we will have to continue to track what he reveals in order to determine the truth and dangers posed by the Taliban.