OTTAWA – A Canadian man captured by the Taliban in 2010 has been freed.
Colin Rutherford was on a private vacation in Afghanistan when he was seized by the militant group in November of that year.
The last indication the Toronto man’s family had that he was alive came in a 2011 video released by insurgents where he answered questions; an accompanying email accused Rutherford, then 26, of being a spy.
In the video, Rutherford insisted he was not a spy and had travelled to Afghanistan to study historical sites, old buildings and shrines.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion announced Rutherford’s release in a brief statement, but did not explain what steps were taken to secure his freedom – only that it involved the government of Qatar.
He says he was “very pleased that efforts” undertaken to get him out proved successful.
“We look forward to Mr. Rutherford being able to return to Canada and reunite with his family and loved ones,” Dion said. “As minister of foreign affairs, I extend my heartfelt thanks to the government of Qatar for its assistance in this matter.”
Rutherford was working as an auditor with the Canadian Circulations Audit Board in Toronto when he went on vacation to Afghanistan in 2010.
“This is great news,” said Tim Peel, the company’s vice-president said in an email. “We wish him a safe and speedy return and would like to thank all the parties involved in securing his freedom.”
Peel did not respond to questions about whether Rutherford’s job still exists.
Rutherford’s brother, Brian, called Colin’s release “incredible news.”
“We’re obviously overjoyed at the news today and we’re very thankful to everyone whose hard work has assisted in Colin’s safe release,” Brian Rutherford said in an email to The Canadian Press.
He added in a Facebook message that “We’re also looking forward to get more news in the coming hours and days and very much looking forward to seeing my brother again!”
The involvement of Qatar in Rutherford’s release is not entirely surprising. The Persian Gulf country has at times quietly played mediator between western governments and the Taliban – even helping to facilitate peace negotiations between governments in Kabul and the hardline insurgency.
The Taliban have openly maintained a political office in the capital of Doha since 2013.
Whether any ransom was paid is an important question.
In securing the release of Canadian diplomats Bob Fowler and Louis Guay from the clutches of al-Qaida’s North African branch in 2009, the previous Conservative government denied making any payment. But an al-Qaida letter to the original kidnappers, obtained by The Associated Press in northern Mali in 2013, said it received $1 million for the pair.
The Obama administration used the Qataris to help facilitate secret negotiations with the Taliban in 2014 for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. Army soldier to be captured during the Afghan war.