Kidnapped U.S.-Canadian couple, three children freed in Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A kidnapped U.S.-Canadian couple and their three children born in captivity have been freed in Pakistan, nearly five years after the couple was abducted in neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistani and U.S. officials said on Thursday.

American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, were kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012 by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network, which the United States has long accused Pakistan of failing to fight.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been highly critical of Islamabad, praised Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S. government over the freeing of the hostages, saying it represented “a positive moment” for U.S.-Pakistan relations.

“The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” Trump said in a statement.

Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, drove home the dire conditions that the family had been subjected to during its long captivity.

“They’ve been essentially living in a hole for five years,” Kelly said. “That’s the kind of people we’re dealing with over there.”

It was unclear how precisely the Pakistani military secured the family’s release, which came after the United States shared intelligence about the hostages’ location. It was also unclear when the family would return home.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the U.S. military had been ready to fly the family out of the country but said Boyle, who is Canadian, had refused to board the aircraft.

Boyle had once been married to the sister of an inmate at the U.S. military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. The marriage ended and the inmate was later released to Canada.

As of Thursday evening, there was no indication the family had left Pakistan. Boyle’s parents said he told them by phone he would see them in a couple of days.

“So we’re waiting for that,” his mother, Linda Boyle, said in a video posted on the Toronto Star newspaper’s website.

U.S. officials expressed hope that the hostages’ freedom could represent a turning point in relations between Pakistan and the United States, uneasy allies in fighting Taliban and other Islamist extremists in the region.

In recent days, senior U.S. officials have been more pointed about Islamabad’s alleged ties to militant groups, who are battling against U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in a stalemated 16-year-old war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Some U.S. officials say Pakistani safe havens have helped prolong the conflict.

Pakistan fiercely denies such ties, and it touted the operation as proof of the strength of the alliance.

“The success underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment towards fighting this menace through cooperation between two forces against a common enemy,” a Pakistani army statement said.

SHRAPNEL WOUNDS

A still image from a video posted by the Taliban on social media on December 19, 2016 shows American Caitlan Coleman (L) speaking next to her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their two sons. Taliban/Social media via Reuters

Boyle’s father, in the video message, offered his thanks to Pakistani forces “who risked their lives and got all five of ours out safely and rescued.”

The Toronto Star reported that Boyle told his parents that he was in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car with his wife and children when they were rescued by Pakistani forces. Boyle said he sustained minor shrapnel wounds during the shootout, which left his kidnappers dead.

“The last words Boyle said he heard from the kidnappers were, ‘kill the hostages,’” the Star reported.

The Pakistani army said its forces were able to recover the hostages after acting on U.S. intelligence about their passage into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

The White House, Pentagon and State Department did not offer details about the Pakistani effort, even as it praised cooperation from Islamabad.

But one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no indication that the hostages had been in Afghanistan in the days before they were freed, contrary to the Pakistani account.

The United States believed the hostages were probably held by the Haqqani group in or near its headquarters in northwestern Pakistan the entire time, two other U.S. officials said.

Declining to discuss U.S. intelligence in detail that was shared with Pakistan, they said the United States had been tracking cars capable of holding six or more people moving from place to place, which analysts had concluded were suggestive of moving hostages.

“It was a matter of interdicting vehicles,” another U.S. official told Reuters, saying the United States never dictated to Pakistan how precisely to secure the hostages’ release.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland asked for respect for the family’s privacy.

“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,” Freeland said.

Coleman was pregnant at the time she was kidnapped, and a video released by the Taliban in December showed two sons born while she and her husband were hostages. Thursday’s statements from Islamabad and Washington were the first mention of a third child.

Some officials said Pakistanis’ motive for freeing the hostages may have been political rather than humanitarian, intended to reduce the tensions ahead of upcoming visits by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Tillerson in a statement said Trump’s strategy in the region recognised “the important role Pakistan needs to play to bring stability and ultimately peace to the region.”

Mattis, who last week said the United States would try “one more time” to work with Pakistan in Afghanistan, was upbeat on Thursday.

“This is a very positive moment and the Pakistan army performed well,” Mattis told reporters during a trip to Florida.

Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Idrees Ali in Tampa, Florida; Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker

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American Caitlan Coleman, family freed from Afghanistan captors

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An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children — who had been held captive since 2012 by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network — were freed after an operation involving Pakistani forces, officials announced Thursday.

Caitlan Coleman, 32, was seven months pregnant when she and her husband, Josh Boyle, were abducted.

The operation that set Coleman, Boyle and their children free was undertaken by Pakistani forces based on actionable intelligence provided by U.S. authorities, according to a statement by the ISPR. U.S. intelligence agencies had been tracking the hostages and shared the location with Pakistani counterparts when the hostages shifted into Pakistani territory Wednesday.

President Trump appeared to hint at the news of Coleman’s release during a speech in Coleman’s home state of Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

“Something happened today, where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news,” Trump said. “And one of my generals came in. They said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would’ve never done that.’ It was a great sign of respect. You’ll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.”

Coleman and Boyle were last seen in a hostage video in December 2016 pleading for their governments to intervene.

The two vanished after setting 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, Jim and Lyn Coleman, last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an internet cafe in what Josh described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

The announcement of the release comes a month after President Trump announced a new strategy to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the Taliban and other militant groups would no longer find safe haven in Pakistan.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford told Congress last week Pakistan would no longer be a sanctuary for terrorism.

In the 2016 YouTube video, Coleman refers to “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves” and urges “governments on both sides” to reach a deal for their freedom. She then adds: “My children have seen their mother defiled.”

Two young children appear in the video with them, and Coleman has told her family that she gave birth to two children in captivity. It was revealed Thursday that Coleman had a third child.

“Please don’t become the next Jimmy Carter,” Coleman says in the 2016 video, reading a prepared statement and making a plea to former President Barack Obama. “Just give the offenders something so they and you can save face so we can leave the region permanently.”

The video came to public attention through the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online. SITE said it was dated Dec. 3.

“We are deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of Joshua Boyle, Caitlan Coleman and their young children and call for their unconditional release,” Canadian Global Affairs spokesman Michael O’Shaughnessy said. The State Department also said at the time that it was reviewing the footage.

The Haqqani network has orchestrated a vast array of brutal attacks in Afghanistan in recent years, against both locals and the U.S. military, but unlike their Taliban associates, they are deemed to be more motivated by money than faith.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Barcelona terror attack suspect freed by judge, three others ordered held

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One of the four surviving suspects in last week’s twin terror attacks in Spain was ordered released by a judge Tuesday. 

National Court Judge Fernando Andreu said the evidence against Mohamed Aalla was “not solid enough.”

However, Andreu did determine there was enough evidence to hold 21-year-old Mohamed Houli Chemlal and 28-year-old Driss Oukabir on preliminary charges of causing homicides and injuries of terrorist nature and of belonging to a terrorism organization.

The fourth man, Sahl El Karib, was to remain in custody for at least 72 more hours while police inquiries continue.

Andreu issued his orders after listening to the men answer questions about the vehicular assaults in Barcelona and Cambrils that killed 15 people and injured more than 120 others. 

Chemlal, the first to testify, confirmed media reports that a much larger attack had been planned in Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. He identified imam Abdelbaki Es Satty as the leader of the 12-man cell, and said Es Satty planned to carry out a suicide bombing at a monument in the city.

However, Es Satty and another man blew themselves up Wednesday while preparing explosives in a house in the coastal town of Alcanar, south of Barcelona.

Chemlal testified Tuesday that he only survived because he was on the ground floor of the house washing dishes after dinner. Police later found in the house over 100 tanks of butane gas and materials to make TATP, an explosive frequently used in attacks by ISIS militants. The group has claimed responsibility for both attacks

INSIDE THE FILTHY APARTMENT OF BARCELONA TERROR ATTACK SUSPECT

Oukabir, the second suspect to testify, denied any involvement with the extremist cell despite his brother being one of the five radicals shot dead by police in Cambrils early Friday. He admitted he rented the vans used in the assaults, but said he thought they would be used for a house move.

Oukabir initially told police after the attack that his younger brother had stolen his identification documents to rent the van used in the Barcelona attack. On Tuesday, he testified that he had told this initial story out of fear.  

Aalla and El Karib denied being part of the extremist cell. Aalla said an Audi A3 used in the Cambrils attack was registered under his name but used by another sibling. Police say one of Aalla’s younger brothers died in Cambrils and another one is believed to be the second casualty in the Alcanar house blast where the imam died.

El Karib, the owner of a cybercafe in Ripoll, told the judge on Tuesday that he was only trying to make a profit when he bought at least two plane tickets for two alleged members of the cell.

Earlier Tuesday, raided that cybercafe in Ripoll as well as a house in Vilafranca del Penedes, searching for more evidence.

ATTACK VICTIMS CAME FROM AROUND WORLD TO CELEBRATE BARCELONA

The lone fugitive from the cell — 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub — was shot to death Monday west of Barcelona after a massive, dayslong manhunt. Police say he flashed what turned out to be a fake suicide belt at two officers who confronted him in a vineyard.

Police said they had “scientific evidence” that Abouyaaqoub drove the van that barreled through Barcelona’s crowded Las Ramblas promenade and that he hijacked a car and fatally stabbed its driver while making his getaway.

Abouyaaqoub’s brother and friends made up the rest of the 12-man extremist cell. Police said with Abouyaaqoub’s death, the group’s members were all dead or in custody.

Chemlal was born in Melilla, one of Spain’s two North African coastal enclaves that have borders with Morocco. Spanish media say the other 11 suspects are all reportedly Moroccans who lived in Spain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Man, 22, freed after new evidence in child sex case points to friend

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A onetime Texas high school football star, who was sentenced to 25 years behind bars without the possibility of parole for sexually assaulting a child, has been granted bond and released after a judge said his due-process rights were violated during a flawed police investigation.

State District Judge Donna King said police did not corroborate information from the child victim and did not speak to other potential persons of interest.

King also granted bond to Greg Kelley, 22, based on what she ruled was ineffective assistance from his attorney. The judge cited Kelley’s decision to waive his appeal. She wrote: “There can be no sound strategy to waive the appeal of a conviction unsupported by sufficient evidence. Counsel’s advice to waive his appeal was deficient.”

Four years ago, Greg Kelley, then 18, was arrested on a charge of sexual assault of a 4-year-old boy at an in-home day care center. Two weeks later, a second boy came forward with allegations of assault. Almost a year later, in July 14, he was convicted and sentenced.

The case was brought back to life in May this year after Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick claimed that he had been given “credible” evidence suggesting that the son of the day care facility operator, Johnathan McCarty, may have been involved in the abuse. This spurred Texas Rangers to re-investigate the case. McCarty, a friend of Kelley’s, has not been charged, but has been named by Texas Rangers as one of three suspects.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Johnathan McCarty, whose mother operated the in-home daycare where the crime is believed to have happened, remains in the Williamson County Jail on unrelated charges. A third person who authorities say is also a suspect has not been identified.

Fox News reported McCarty’s lawyer vehemently denied allegations against her client, with claims he is being scapegoated in a quest to prove Kelley’s innocence.

Kelley initially was accused of sexual assaulting two young boys in 2013, at the age of 18, at the day care center run by a friend’s family. The guilty charge was handed out a year later, although at the trial there was no physical evidence and one of the young victims, who testified via closed circuit TV, denied that Kelley had touched him. The day care owner also took the stand, professing her belief that Kelley was innocent.

A motion for a new trial, filed soon after the guilty verdict, was denied after a new judge took the case. More than 18 months of state appeals followed from Kelley’s new defense team, with claims they had evidence to prove that he was not at the daycare during the time the alleged crimes occurred. The appeals were dismissed.

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Prominent rights activist Xu Zhiyong freed from Chinese jail

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BEIJING (Reuters) – One of China’s most prominent rights activists was released by the authorities on Saturday after serving a four-year sentence that prompted international criticism, with his lawyer saying he hoped he would be allowed to live as a free man.

Xu Zhiyong, whose “New Citizens’ Movement” advocated working within the system to press for change, was detained in 2013 and subsequently convicted of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”.

One of the group’s main demands had been for officials to publicly disclose their assets, a demand taken against the backdrop of the ruling Communist Party’s own efforts to crackdown on deep-seat corruption under President Xi Jinping.

Xu’s lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, told Reuters he had brought Xu up to speed with “events on the outside”, including the death of fellow activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo. He said Xu was “upset” upon hearing the news.

Zhang said Xu, who was released from his jail on Beijing’s outskirts on Saturday morning, was in good physical condition and had few immediate plans beyond spending time with family.

At the height of Xu’s activism, he attracted hundreds of supporters who participated in activities related to the movement, having first gained prominence in 2003 for helping victims of tainted baby formula and migrant workers without access to healthcare and education.

It prompted a crackdown from the Communist Party, which swiftly crushes any perceived challenge to its rule.

“The idea of the New Citizens Movement is not to overthrow, but to establish,” he wrote in a 2010 essay. “It’s not one social class displacing another social class, but allowing righteousness to take its place in China.”

Xu refused to defend himself in his 2014 trial, and remained silent as a way to protest what Zhang said was a controlled legal process where a guilty outcome was a foregone conclusion.

As international rights groups and foreign governments call for Chinese authorities to guarantee freedom for Liu Xiaobo’s widow, Liu Xia, Xu’s supporters have also expressed concern whether he will remain under close watch or effective house arrest. Some said on social media they were barred by security guards and plain-clothed officers from entering Xu’s apartment compound on Saturday.

Other high-profile and politically sensitive prisoners released from jail, including rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and journalist Gao Yu, remain closely watched by Chinese authorities.

“I hope he will be completely free,” Zhang said.

Xu taught law at a Beijing university and ran in a local election. He became prominent over a drive to abolish “custody and repatriation” powers, a form of arbitrary detention used by local governments to sweep homeless people off the streets.

Editing by Ben Blanchard and Jacqueline Wong

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