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Canadian Held Hostage in Afghanistan Says Militants Killed His Child

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Canadian Held Hostage in Afghanistan Says Militants Killed His Child

By IAN AUSTEN and MEGAN SPECIA  OCT. 14, 2017(CANADA)  The New York Times

OTTAWA — Joshua Boyle called himself a “pilgrim” who was “engaged in helping” in Afghanistan. A man who crossed into Afghanistan with him described him as an adventurer.

Mr. Boyle, 34, who is from Breslau, Ontario, and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, 31, were freed along with their three children on Wednesday after five years as hostages of the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, which seized them in October 2012, while they were hiking. They arrived in Toronto on Friday evening.

Emerging from a room at the Toronto airport — where the children, all born in captivity, met their Canadian grandparents for the first time — Mr. Boyle denounced his captors in brief remarks to reporters and gave more details of their horrific ordeal, including the rape of his wife and that the couple had a fourth child, who was killed by their captors.

“The stupidity and evil of the Haqqani network’s kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter,” he said at the airport.

But he offered little insight into what compelled himself and his wife, who was pregnant at the time they were captured, on their journey in the first place.

Those who knew him before also have little understanding of how he ended up as a hostage in Afghanistan.

While Mr. Boyle was a frequent editor of Wikipedia articles and an avid participant in online gaming forums — who adopted the names of obscure Star Wars characters as his handle — he was otherwise virtually invisible on social media. The son of a federal tax judge and devout Christian, he was once married to an outspoken defender of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a blog post in 2012, Richard Cronin, a British cyclist, described Mr. Boyle’s successful effort at persuading him to join him in entering Afghanistan.

”We started talking about Lawrence of Arabia and the explorer Richard Burton,” Mr. Cronin wrote. “He asked me if I admired these explorers.” He said that Mr. Boyle minimized the risk arguing that “the window is closing and the security situation will only deteriorate when the American troops leave.”

Mr. Boyle, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, grew up northwest of Toronto and attended a Mennonite high school in Kitchener, Ontario, according to a local newspaper report.

Mr. Boyle was well known in the online gaming world, said several other players of the “Star Wars Combine” role-playing game, where he used aliases of obscure characters associated with Star Wars films, “Keir Santage,” a rebel fighter pilot, and “Teniel Djo.”

A Facebook page for Star Wars Combine players shared the news of his release.

One player, Alex Edwards, 32, from Carleton Place, Ontario, said the two had been friends since 2002, when they met in the online game and at one point in time talked three or four times a week.

They soon realized they lived close to one another and eventually met in person.

Mr. Edwards, writing in a series of online messages, described Mr. Boyle as an “extremely private person.” He added, “Josh stayed off social media.”

According to his online friends, he and his wife met during their teenage years in an online Star Wars forum but did not start a romantic relationship until later on.

Other friends who knew Mr. Boyle through the online gaming world said he always had an interest in Afghan history and the role the Taliban played in the country.

While studying at the nearby University of Waterloo, where he graduated in 2005, Mr. Boyle became immersed in writing and editing Wikipedia entries about Islam and terrorism.

The case of Omar Khadr, the only Canadian held by the United States military in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, eventually became a cause for Mr. Boyle.

About 2008, he offered his services as a spokesman to Mr. Khadr’s family. Within the year, he became the third husband of Mr. Khadr’s sister, Zaynab.

Outspoken, Ms. Khadr has defended the Sept. 11 attacks; her brother, who was found in Canada to be unjustly held and tortured, is still prohibited by a court order from meeting her without permission and supervision.

Mr. Boyle, under the user name “Sherurcij” (which also sometimes included the first name “Josh”) spent a lot of time editing and updating the Wikipedia page of his former brother-in-law.

His other contributions were largely focused on members of the Khadr family, Canadian politics and some posts on Nazi history, among others. He also made contributions to pages about other terrorism incidents around the world and the profiles of those involved.

His page also included a note at the bottom, in Arabic, that said “Peace is the solution.” And it included a passage of the Robert W. Service poem “The Men That Don’t Fit In.”

“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,” the poem reads. “A race that can’t stay still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will.”

Mr. Boyle’s marriage to Ms. Khadr lasted just a year. He then took a job at a hotel reservation call center in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick, a tiny village where he bought a house.

One of his former co-workers at the call center said in an interview that two things defined Mr. Boyle: his strong convictions and his desire to bring change to troubled parts of the world.

“I think he really did believe that he could personally make a difference by getting in with the common people,” said Terry Ritchie, who is now retired.

But Mr. Ritchie, who during Mr. Boyle’s time in captivity pressured Canadian politicians on his behalf, recalled him as excessively idealistic, someone he crossed the street to avoid.

“He was absolutely smug about his convictions,” Mr. Ritchie said.

Mr. Ritchie said his co-worker kept a prayer rug at the call center and had permission to use a room for prayers, suggesting that Mr. Boyle had become a Muslim.

Ms. Coleman arrived in Perth-Andover soon after the couple were married on a hiking trip in Central America. Not long afterward they went on the trip that led to their capture and confinement.

In a video released by the military in Pakistan after Mr. Boyle’s release, Mr. Boyle, sitting beside an exhausted looking Ms. Coleman and their children, repeatedly insisted that their captors were not Muslims.

“The men who kidnapped us did not even make a pretense of being Muslim,” he said. “They were undoubtedly criminals. They were undoubtedly pagans. They were directed by commanders who were not guided by Islam and who were not even pretending they were guided by Islam.”

He added: “The criminals who held us they were not good Muslims. They were not even bad Muslims. They were pagan.”

While Mr. Boyle called for justice against his captors late on Friday, he also acknowledged the task now awaiting him.

“It will be of incredible importance to my family that we are able to build a secure sanctuary for our three surviving children to call a home, to focus on edification and to try to regain some portion of the childhood that they have lost,” he said at the airport.

A version of this article appears in print on October 15, 2017, on Page A10 of the New York editionwith the headline: Ex-Hostage Says Captors Killed His Baby and Raped His Wife. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

 

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