A Canadian man, his American wife and their three young children born during the couple's five years in captivity were freed in a Pakistani commando raid and shootout, authorities announced Thursday.
The Pakistani military said Joshua Boyle, his wife Caitlan Coleman and their children had been freed in "an intelligence-based operation'' after they'd crossed the border from Afghanistan, where they had been abducted by a group with ties to the Taliban.
Tariq Azim Khan, the country's high commissioner to Canada, said once the military received word of the family's whereabouts from U.S. intelligence authorities, they acted quickly.
Khan described a dramatic scene in which gunshots rang out as the family was intercepted by Pakistani forces while being transported by their captors in the trunk of a van.
"We know there was a shootout and Pakistan commandos carried out an attack and rescued the hostages,'' Khan said from London.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has met with the Boyle family in the past, said they had endured an "absolutely horrible ordeal.'' Freeland refused to describe the circumstances of the release, citing security reasons but said Canada had been working with the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan, whom she thanked.
"We all have to really remember what a traumatic experience this family has gone through — really unspeakable,'' Freeland said in Mexico City.
Boyle and Coleman, who was pregnant at the time of the abduction, were held by the Haqqani network, a group U.S. officials call a terrorist organization.
That's the first time in five years we got to hear his voice. It was amazing.Linda Boyle, mother of Joshua Boyle who was captured by Taliban-affiliated group
Boyle's parents, who live in Smiths Falls, Ont., say their son and his family want to come to Canada.
"The family has chosen Canada,'' Patrick Boyler said Thursday evening. "We're hoping to know ourselves when we get to go pick them up.''
Earlier Thursday they issued a video statement released to the Toronto Star saying they spoke with their son over the phone early Thursday morning.
"That's the first time in five years we got to hear his voice. It was amazing,'' Linda Boyle said. "He told us ... how much his children were looking forward to meeting their grandparents, and that he'd see me in a couple days.''
Patrick Boyle also thanked those involved in the case.
"We'd really like to thank the American and Afghan governments as well as our own Canadian team,'' he said. "Most importantly this morning we relayed to the high commissioner of Pakistan here in Canada our profound thanks for the courageous Pakistani soldiers who risked their lives and got all five of ours out in a rescue.''
RCMP officers were keeping reporters away from the family's home in Smiths Falls, located about 80 kilometres west of Ottawa.
Coleman's parents, meanwhile, posted a statement on the door of their Pennsylvania home saying they appreciated "all the interest and concern being expressed at the joyful news that Caity, Josh and our grandchildren have been released after five long years of captivity.''
A U.S. national security official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the case publicly, said the family was not in American custody but were together in a safe location in Pakistan. American officials had planned on moving the family out of Pakistan on a U.S. transport plane but Boyle refused to board, the official said.
Another U.S. official said Boyle was nervous about being in "custody'' given that he was previously married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Canadian Omar Khadr, who spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay after being captured when he was 15 in Afghanistan.
Family released after five years in captivity
Officials discounted any link between that background and Boyle's capture and Freeland stressed that Boyle was not the focus of any investigation.
The couple told U.S. officials that they wanted to fly commercially to Canada, according to an official.
The release came nearly five years to the day since Boyle and Coleman lost touch with their families while travelling in a mountainous region near the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The couple appeared in a series of videos beginning in 2013, which were shared online. In one posted last December, the pair urged governments on all sides to reach a deal to secure the family's freedom.
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Boyle's parents had said the clip marked the first time they had seen their two grandchildren.
They have said it was heartbreaking to watch their grandchildren observing their surroundings while listening to their mother describe how they were made to watch her being "defiled.''
"It is an indescribable emotional sense one has watching a grandson making faces at the camera, while hearing our son's leg chains clanging up and down on the floor as he tries to settle his son,'' the Boyles said in a written statement at the time. "It is unbelievable that they have had to shield their sons from their horrible reality for four years.''
Coleman: Living a "Kafkaesque nightmare'' since 2012
The parents said their son told them in a letter that he and his wife tried to protect their children by pretending their signs of captivity are part of a game being played with guards.
In the clip, Coleman said she and her family had been living a "Kafkaesque nightmare'' since 2012. The Boyles had said their daughter-in-law could not have used a more accurate term.
In commenting on news of the family's release from captivity, U.S. Premier Donald Trump praised Pakistan for its willingness to "do more to provide security in the region.''
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