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N. American family kidnapped by Afghan Taliban freed: Pakistan army

RAWALPINDI (PAKISTAN) (AFP) - 

A North American family that had been held hostage by the Afghan Taliban has been freed following an operation in Pakistan, the Pakistani military said Thursday.

The hostages are "safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin", the army said in a statement, after the rescue in Kurram district, part of the semi-autonomous tribal belt along the Afghan border.

"Pak Army recovered 5 Western hostages including 1 Canadian, his US National wife and their three children from terrorist custody", it said of the operation, which was launched after Pakistani authorities received intelligence from US officials.

It did not name the family, but Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman were kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban during a backpacking trip in Afghanistan 2012, and are believed to have had at least two children while in captivity.

Pakistan officials provided no details about the operation.

"We welcome media reports that a family including U.S. citizens has been released from captivity," a US embassy spokesman in Islamabad told AFP, without confirming the identity of the released hostages.

Pakistan has been under increased pressure from Washington to crack down on alleged militant sanctuaries inside its borders after US President Donald Trump lambasted the country in a televised address in August.

During the speech, Trump accused Islamabad of sheltering "agents of chaos" and suggested ties with Pakistan would be adjusted immediately but offered few details.

The last known footage of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman surfaced in December last year when they appeared in video urging their governments to secure their release. They were pictured holding their two young sons, who had been born while they were in captivity.

It was not clear when the video was shot, but it was released after rumours swirled in Kabul that the government was planning to execute Anas Haqqani, son of the Taliban-allied Haqqani network's founder, who has been held since 2014.

The Haqqani network has been accused of masterminding several high-profile terrorist attacks in the Afghan capital and have been known to kidnap Western hostages and smuggle them across the border into Pakistan.

Kurram tribal agency borders Nangarhar and Paktia provinces in Afghanistan. Both are riven by militancy, with the Islamic State group gaining a foothold in Nangarhar and Paktia seen as a Haqqani stronghold.

Afghanistan is rife with militants and organised criminal gangs who stage kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreigners and wealthy Afghans, who have been ferried over the border into Pakistan's tribal belt.

The Taliban are also believed to be holding American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weekes, both professors at the American University of Afghanistan, who were dragged from their vehicles in Kabul by gunmen in August last year.

US Special Operations forces conducted a secret raid authorised by then-President Barack Obama to rescue them, but the hostages were not there, the Pentagon said at the time.

They most recently appeared in a hostage video released in June this year.

© 2017 AFP