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Canadian Man Details Horrors Family Endured In Years Held By Haqqani Network

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.
Taliban Media via AP

The Pakistani army rescued a Canadian-American family last week who had been held by a Taliban-affiliated group in Afghanistan for five years.

Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman had been held captive by the Haqqani network since 2012. The couple's three children were all born in captivity. The family is now recovering in Ontario.

In a brief statement during a press conference in Toronto, Boyle said his wife had been raped and their infant daughter killed while they were in captivity.

The Toronto Star's Michelle Shephard spoke with NPR's Renee Montagne on Weekend Edition Sunday about her conversation with the family patriarch.

Boyle talked about the conditions the family endured, including being held underground and at times in cells no larger than the size of a bathtub. He also told Shephard his wife was forced to have an abortion, referencing the infant daughter he said was killed.

Coleman's father has publicly criticized Boyle for taking his wife into Afghanistan, where they were kidnapped. During the press conference, Boyle said they were entering the country as pilgrims, intent on helping the people living in Taliban-controlled regions.

Shephard, who recently met the couple's three children, said they are experiencing "a series of firsts" since being rescued. Shephard observed their older son repeatedly flushing a toilet because he'd never seen one that flushed before.

Interview Highlights

On not knowing what was happening in the outside world:

"You can imagine for five years, especially with children, just having nothing. So he said it was very very rare they got anything to read. Once they had sort of a slate with chalk and they used that, but for the most part they had nothing. So it was just after Trump's inauguration that they were forced to do a proof of life video, and Josh said at that point that's when he was told that Donald Trump was elected, and he actually said he thought it was a joke. They'd been in this bubble for four years at that point..."

On the children's recovery:

"It was amazing the series of firsts that they were experiencing. The older son, Jonah, kept flushing the toilet. He'd never seen a toilet that flushed. You can just imagine, they've had no other life than being hostage. They were all born in captivity. The second youngest son, or the younger son, he apparently experiences a lot of terror. He'll scream, I didn't see this, but he apparently will scream for part of the day. He's terrified of boots. Clearly ... those two boys are going to need a lot of psychological care, and I think the family is reaching out to get that now."

NPR Digital News Intern Isabel Dobrin produced this story for digital platforms.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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