Couple in Afghanistan video plea say they're parents, call for U.S. to free them and child
Coleman Family, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The married couple with a taste for exotic travel set out for Central Asia in the summer of 2012, moving as tourists through a region not normally visited by Westerners.
It was a risky venture by any standards, not least because the young travelers were expecting their first child. They crossed into Afghanistan where, one day, Joshua Boyle emailed relatives from a part of the country he said was unsafe.
The Oct. 8, 2012, message was the last anyone heard from the Canadian man or his pregnant wife, Caitlan Coleman.
Now, though, there's a new wrinkle in the story.
In two short videos received by Coleman's parents last year, Boyle and Coleman are seen calling on the U.S. government to free them and their child — who would be about 18 months old — from Taliban captors. The video files, which were provided to The Associated Press, were emailed to Coleman's father last July and September by an Afghan man who identified himself as having Taliban ties.
The videos offer the first and only clues about what happened to Coleman and Boyle after they lost touch with their families 20 months ago while traveling in a mountainous region near Kabul. But they leave unanswered basic questions, including the couple's whereabouts and their current welfare. And if she indeed had her baby, where is the child?
"I would ask that my family and my government do everything that they can to bring my husband, child and I to safety and freedom," the 28-year-old American says in one recording, wearing a conservative black garment that covers all but her face. Her husband, with a long and untrimmed beard, sits beside her.
U.S. law enforcement officials investigating the couple's disappearance consider the videos authentic but say they hold limited investigative value since it's not clear when or where they were made.
The families decided to make the videos public now, in light of the publicity surrounding the weekend rescue of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed from Taliban custody in exchange for the release of five high-level Taliban detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The families said they were disappointed that their children and grandchild were not freed as part of the same deal but were appealing for help from anyone who could give it, including and especially the couple's captors.
"It would be no more appropriate to have our government turn their backs on their citizens than to turn their backs on those who serve," Patrick Boyle, a Canadian judge and the father of Joshua Boyle, said in a telephone interview.
The families said their children were prisoners just as Bergdahl was and should be recognized as "innocent tourists." Though the couple made a mistake by venturing on their own into dangerous territory, they — and especially their child — should not be penalized more than they already have been, the families contend.
"It's an event that just stands out. I think it cries to out to the world: 'This can't be. These people must be let go immediately,'" said James Coleman, Coleman's father.
In a joint written statement Wednesday night, the families called for a humanitarian effort to bring their children and grandchild home. They asked for "compassion" from the captors and for help from anyone with information.
"We do not know why their captors continue to hold them. We desperately want them home, but we do not know what to do. Moreover, we do not know where to turn," the statement read.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined Wednesday to discuss specifics of the case because of privacy considerations. Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, a spokesman for Canada's foreign affairs department, said officials have been aware of the couple's disappearance been working with Afghan authorities.
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