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Pakistan rescues University of Waterloo grad and family held by Taliban

Last Updated Oct 12, 2017 at 11:42 am EST

This undated militant file image from video posted online in August 2016, which has not been independently verified by The Associated Press, provided by SITE Intel Group, shows Canadian Joshua Boyle and American Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012. The parents of a Canadian man held hostage in Afghanistan say a recently released video of their son and his family marks the first time they've seen their two grandchildren, who were born in captivity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ AP-SITE Intel Group via AP, File

A Canadian man, his American wife and their three young children have been rescued after being held captive for years by a network with ties to the Taliban, U.S. and Pakistani officials said Thursday.

The Pakistani military rescued Joshua Boyle, a University of Waterloo grad, and his wife Caitlan Coleman who were abducted five years ago while travelling in Afghanistan and had been held by the Haqqani network in Pakistan.

Boyle graduated from the University of Waterloo in 2005.

Coleman was pregnant when she was captured. The couple had three children while in captivity, and all have been freed, U.S. officials say.

A U.S. national security official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing operation, commended Pakistan for their critical assistance in securing the family’s release – and described the co-operation as an important step in the right direction for U.S.-Pakistani relations.

The U.S. has long criticized Pakistan for failing to aggressively go after the Haqqanis, who have been behind many attacks against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, its military said in a statement that U.S. intelligence agencies had been tracking the hostages and discovered they had come into Pakistan on Oct. 11 through its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“All hostages were recovered safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin,” the military said.

Three Pakistani military officials, all speaking on condition of anonymity as they weren’t allowed to speak to journalists, also confirmed the hostages’ identities.

The release, which came together rapidly Wednesday, comes 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.

“We are greatly relieved that after being held hostage for five years, Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman, as well as their young children, have been released and are safe,” Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said in a statement.

“Joshua, Caitlan, their children and the Boyle and Coleman families have endured a horrible ordeal over the past five years. We stand ready to support them as they begin their healing journey. We ask that the families’ privacy be respected.”

The couple set off in the summer 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan. Coleman’s parents last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an internet cafe in what Boyle described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos asking the U.S. government to free them.

Coleman’s parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, told the online Circa News service in July 2016 that they received a letter from their daughter in November 2015, in which she wrote that she’d given birth to a second child in captivity. It’s unclear whether they knew she’d had a third.

“I pray to hear from you again, to hear how everybody is doing,” the letter said.

In that interview, Jim Coleman issued a plea to top Taliban commanders to be “kind and merciful” and let the couple go.

“As a man, father and now grandfather, I am asking you to show mercy and release my daughter, her husband, and our beautiful grandchildren,” Jim Coleman said. “Please grant them an opportunity to continue their lives with us, and bring peace to their families.”

The family was being held by the Haqqani network. U.S. officials call the group a terrorist organization and have targeted its leaders with drone strikes. But the group also operates like a criminal network. Unlike the Islamic State group, it does not typically execute Western hostages, preferring to ransom them for cash.