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The family freed after 5 years of Taliban captivity is finally en route to Canada after initially refusing to board a US plane

Caitlan Coleman and her family (YouTube)

The young family freed this week from being held captive for five years by militants have boarded a commercial flight to London from Islamabad, Pakistan, and will travel to Canada from there, a Pakistani military official told CNN on Friday.

Joshua Boyle, a Canadian, and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, were held hostage by the Taliban’s Haqqani network after they were abducted while traveling in Afghanistan. The couple’s three children were born in captivity.

Speculation abounded Thursday after media reports said Boyle had refused to board a US transport plane that American officials had arranged for the family. One US official told The Associated Press that Boyle had been nervous about being in “custody” because of his background, though another official clarified that the family was not formally in US custody.

The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, also said on Thursday that US officials had “arrangements to transport them back to the United States, or to Canada, anywhere they wanted to go.” He added that the family was receiving medical and psychological treatment.

“They’ve been essentially living in a hole for five years,” Kelly said.

It’s unclear what precisely about Boyle’s background made him nervous around US officials, but media reports have noted that Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr — the sister of the Canadian-born former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr — who has expressed sympathies for Al Qaeda.

The siblings’ father, Ahmed Said Khadr, who died in 2003, was an Al Qaeda financier close to Osama bin Laden, with whom the family had once briefly stayed. Officials have dismissed any notion that the family’s capture was connected to Boyle’s previous marriage. In 2014, they described the Khadr family link as a “horrible coincidence.”

But Boyle’s decision not to board the US plane didn’t add up, Coleman’s father Jim said on Friday in an interview with “Good Morning America.”

“I don’t know what five years in captivity would do to somebody but if it were me and I saw a US aircraft and US soldiers, I’d be running for it,” Jim Coleman said. He also criticized Boyle’s decision to travel to Afghanistan in the first place.

“What I can say is taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person that I am, is unconscionable,” he said.

In an interview with The Toronto Star on Thursday, which took place during a phone call to his parents in Ontario, Boyle said his family looked forward to rebuilding their lives.

“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 we’re looking forward to a new lease on life, to use an overused idiom, and restarting and being able to build a sanctuary for our children and our family in North America.

“I have discovered there is little that cannot be overcome by enough Sufi patience, Irish irreverence, and Canadian sanctimony,” he said with a laugh, the newspaper reported.

The rescue

The release came together rapidly Wednesday. It happened nearly five years to the day after Coleman and Boyle lost touch with their families while traveling in a mountainous region near the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The couple set off in the summer of 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 October 8, 2012, from an internet cafe in what Boyle described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

The only trace of the couple since has been in the form of videos released by their captors and family letters.

Coleman’s parents 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 read.

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

Boyle’s parents said last year that a Taliban-released video had given them their first glimpse of their grandchildren.

“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. “It is unbelievable that they have had to shield their sons from their horrible reality for four years.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from a previous version published Thursday, titled “The family freed after 5 years of Taliban captivity now refuses to board US plane,” to reflect that the family boarded a flight early on Friday and is traveling to Canada.

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