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Video surfaces offering clues on Caitlan Coleman, missing US woman held in Afghanistan



By ERIC TUCKER

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The family of a pregnant American woman who went missing in Afghanistan in late 2012 with her Canadian husband received two videos last year in which the couple asked the U.S. government to help free them from Taliban captors, The Associated Press has learned.

The videos offer the first and only clues about what happened to Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle after they lost touch with their families 20 months ago while traveling in a mountainous region near the capital, Kabul. 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 video files, which were provided to the AP, were emailed to Coleman's father last July and September by an Afghan man who identified himself as having ties to the Taliban but who has been out of contact for several months. In one, a subdued Coleman - dressed in a conservative black garment that covers all but her face- appeals to "my president, Barack Obama" for help.

"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 says in the other recording, talking into a wobbly camera while seated beside her husband, whose beard is long and untrimmed.

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 suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The families say they are disappointed that their children and grandchild were not freed as part of the same deal but are still holding out hope for the U.S. and Canadian governments to secure their release on humanitarian grounds.

"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.

Republicans in Congress have criticized the Bergdahl agreement and complained about not being consulted, though Obama has defended it, citing a "sacred" obligation to not leave men and women in uniform behind. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., asked Obama in a letter this week why other Americans still in the custody of Afghan militants were not included in the negotiation. The families say their children, though without political or military ties to the government, are prisoners just as Bergdahl was and should be recognized as "innocent tourists" and not penalized further for venturing into dangerous territory.

"They really and truly believed that if people were loved and treated with respect that that would be given back to them in kind," said Linda Boyle, Boyle's mother. "So as odd it as it may seem to us that they were there, they truly believed with all their heart that if they treated people properly, they would be treated properly."

Relatives describe the couple, who wed in 2011 after meeting online, as well-intentioned but naive adventure seekers.

They once spent months traveling through Latin America, where they lived among indigenous Guatemalans and where Boyle grew a long beard that led some children to call him "Santa Claus." The couple set off again in the summer of 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then finally to Afghanistan. With plans to return home in December ahead of Coleman's due date, they checked in regularly via email during their travels - expressing in their writings an awareness of the perils they faced - and toured the region, staying in hostels and their tent.

The communication abruptly ended on Oct. 8, 2012, after Boyle emailed from an Internet cafe in what he called an "unsafe" part of Afghanistan. The last withdrawals from the couple's bank account were made Oct. 8 and 9 in Kabul. Two months later, an Afghan official told the AP that the two had been abducted in Wardak Providence, a rugged, mountainous Taliban haven.

New hope emerged last year when an Afghan man who said he had Taliban connections contacted James Coleman, offering first audio recordings and, later, the two email video files. Though the man said the recordings had been provided by the Taliban, he did not reveal what, if anything, the captors wanted and has not been in touch with the Colemans for months. Meanwhile, the Boyles and Colemans regularly send letters in an effort to reach their children through a non-governmental organization, but haven't received a response.

The families have not received any ransom demands and there are no clear signs of motive for their being held, but officials say the mere fact they were Westerners in hostile territory may have been reason enough. Joshua Boyle was previously married to the sister of Omar Khadr, a Canadian man who spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay after being captured in 2002 in a firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan, but U.S. officials discount any link between that previous family tie and his capture. One called it a "horrible coincidence."

Two U.S. law enforcement officials described the investigation, speaking only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly by name about the probe which is still underway.

The videos, each under two minutes long and featuring the couple seated in spare settings before cloth-draped backgrounds, contain no apparent clues - such as distinctive ethnic music - that might help investigators identify captors or locale. The videos do contain time stamps - one says May 20, 2013, the other Aug. 20, 2013 - but officials say those notations can easily be manipulated.

U.S. officials say the videos, in their low quality and lack of detail, bear some similarities to those the Taliban released about Bergdahl. They caution that while the videos establish beyond doubt that the couple were captured, they do not qualify as proof of life since there's no mention of current events that could help establish the time.

In addition to calling for government help, the couple in the videos recite names of their family members and certain contact information.

"Just seeing her and seeing her face and hearing her, while it was very difficult, it was also something that relieved a lot of ambiguous anxieties and the fears," said Coleman's mother, Lyn.

Caitlan Coleman refers to her child in the videos, but no child is shown - a fact one U.S. official said was concerning. The grandparents say they don't know the name or gender of the child, who would be about 18 months old.

Even as he holds out hope, James Coleman frets about his daughter's health and a grandchild born into captivity in a foreign country.

"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.

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Join the discussion

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stwild June 04 2014 at 4:23 PM

Why in the world would any one travel to Afghanistan? Sorry but you have to be pretty stupid. So what now. Clean out Gitmo for them?

Flag Reply +78 rate up
11 replies
cpruitt221 June 04 2014 at 4:13 PM

I cannot imagine a couple who are expecting to make a trip like this one.

Flag Reply +69 rate up
4 replies
Mike Hartnett June 04 2014 at 4:24 PM

Why on earth would anyone go to Afghanistan on vacation? Let alone with a war going on.

Flag Reply +59 rate up
3 replies
krelorjac June 04 2014 at 4:25 PM

that's why you don't go "camping" in Afghanistan. duh.

Flag Reply +54 rate up
3 replies
grandmagina09 June 04 2014 at 4:23 PM

Obama, you freed 5 Taliban, in exchange for a traitor and deserter, What about these people? Are they not worth as much as the traitor? Obama you are the most disgusting person on this earth.

Flag Reply +47 rate up
19 replies
flaman8377 June 04 2014 at 4:14 PM

Assuming these videos are valid, and now that you have decided we will trade human beings as ransom, what are you going to do now Obama? Aren't two adults and a child worth at least as much as one soldier? You have opened up a whole new future where Americans can be held for ransom. OK Liberal lemmings who proliferate AOL, what now?

Flag Reply +30 rate up
5 replies
rbjrjr June 04 2014 at 4:32 PM

Sadly for their family the gene pool is a little deeper now. For anyone (especially an American) to travel to that part of the world deserves what they get. Their level of stupidity is amazing. It's a bit like a newborn rabbit falling into a wolf's den.
Of course - maybe the geniuses in DC have someone to trade for them. The precedent has been set !

Flag Reply +29 rate up
3 replies
therobbdogg01 June 04 2014 at 5:11 PM

Are people just S T U P I D ! " Oh were going hiking and camping in countries where the taliban roam free, they wont bother us because we're not military." There are enough beautiful and challenging places for receration inside the US borders where the dangers are bears, snakes and other of nature's wildlife. rather than gun toting terrorists. But the more I think about it, I guess they could run into a border patrol checkpoint or the BLM, but at least they speak english.

Flag Reply +25 rate up
1 reply
John therobbdogg01 June 04 2014 at 6:45 PM

As Jim Carry says in one of his movies: "Stupid is s Stupid does." Trading for additional muslim terrorist bombers who will again murder innocent human beings, seem to me to be a Bad Trade before it is even suggested.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
2 replies
Jonathan John June 04 2014 at 7:28 PM

John, you keep reposting this quote and attributing it to the wrong source....It was Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump...not Jim Carrey...

Flag +20 rate up
serious.stuff John June 05 2014 at 9:49 AM

I believe you are referring to Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump.

Flag 0 rate up
philips0811 June 04 2014 at 4:26 PM

Alright! Obama is going to be able to close Gitmo at last, just like he promised. This couple should be worth 8 or 9 terrorists. All the Taliban or other terrorists have to do is kidnap another dozen or so Americans and Gitmo will be cleaned out. I'm sure all of the released terrorists will renounce terrorism and join the ACLU. Yet another genius strategy from the Celebrity Spokespresident. Side note: Who goes for a tour in Afghanistan? Reminds me of Leslie Nielson in Police Squad taking his vacation in Beirut.

Flag Reply +18 rate up
3 replies
mtnpagan June 04 2014 at 4:32 PM

Oh please. It's been done before Obama! Get over it and stop blaming Obama for everything! That said they have lost lots of weight!

Flag Reply +16 rate up
3 replies
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