Ex-Hostages Back in Canada After Harrowing Raid to Free Them

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Joshua Boyle, left, gets a police escort after speaking to the media after arriving at the airport in Toronto on Oct. 13.

Photographer: Nathan Denette/AP

Smiths Falls, Ontario (AP) -- A couple held hostage for five years by a Taliban-linked extremist network in Afghanistan was safely back in Canada on Saturday after what the husband described as a harrowing firefight during a raid to free the family.

Joshua Boyle played with one of his sons in the garden of his parents' home. The boy appeared happy and healthy, digging in the grass as his father showed off the different plants and later spoke on a cellphone.

In a video released by Pakistan's military that was filmed before he left that country for home, Boyle said Pakistani security forces positioned themselves between the hostages and their Haqqani network captors to keep the family safe amid the gunfire.

"A major comes over to me while I still have blood on me. The street is chaos and he says to me, 'In the American media they said that we support the Haqqani network and that we make it possible. Today you have seen the truth. Did we not put bullets in those bastards?'" Boyle recalled, appearing beside his wife and children in the video.

"And so I can say to you I did see the truth, and the truth was that car was riddled with bullets. The ISI (Pakistan's intelligence agency) and the army got between the criminals and the car to make sure the prisoners were safe and my family was safe. They put them to flight and they ran like cowards. And this is proof enough to me the Pakistanis are doing everything to their utmost."

The circumstances under which the video was recorded were not immediately clear.

Boyle, his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, and their three children were rescued Wednesday, five years after the couple was abducted in Afghanistan while on a backpacking trip. Boyle said the kids, who were born in captivity, were adjusting to a new reality after growing up amid a group of "pagan" bandits.

"These are children who three days ago they did know what a toilet looks like. They used a bucket," Boyle said in the video. "Three days ago they did not know what a light is or what a door is except that it is a metal thing that is locked in their face to make them a prisoner.

"And now they are seeing houses, they are seeing food, they are seeing gifts, all of this. They are doing very well."

Coleman was pregnant at the time of their abduction and ultimately gave birth to four children while in captivity. Boyle said after landing at Toronto's airport that the extremists killed their newborn daughter and raped his wife during the years they were held.

He called on the Afghan government to bring their captors to justice, saying, "God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network."

The birth of the fourth child had not been publicly known until then.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, said the rescue raid 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.

After returning to his parents' home in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Boyle emailed The Associated Press a 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."

He also emailed to AP two photos of his son Najaeshi Jonah Makepeace Boyle and said the boy began "raiding the first refrigerator of his life." The picture shows the boy sitting on the floor in a dark corner with food in his hand. The other shows him napping with a blanket covering part of his face and surrounded by stuffed animals.

Earlier, on a flight 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 an AP reporter on board. Next to her were her two elder children. In the seat beyond that was Boyle, with their youngest in his lap. U.S. State Department officials accompanied 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."

Washington considers the Haqqani group 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 the raid, the 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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Associated Press writer Patrick Lejtenyi reported this story in Smiths Falls and AP writer Rob Gillies reported from Toronto. AP writer Martin Benedyk contributed reporting from the plane. AP writers Jill Colvin, Deb Riechmann and Matthew Lee in Washington, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Lolita C. Baldor in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.

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