Canadian Colin Rutherford freed after 5 years in Taliban captivity

According to the federal government, Colin Rutherford, taken hostage during a trip to Afghanistan in 2010, has been released from captivity and will soon return to Canada.

Afghan official says rescue involved helicopter, jets overhead in remote Ghazni province

Canadian freed after 5 years in Taliban captivity

8 years ago
Duration 2:05
Colin Rutherford disappeared while on holiday in Afghanistan

Colin Rutherford, who was taken hostage while on vacation in Afghanistan in 2010, has been released from captivity, according to a statement released by Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion.

The Toronto man, who was captured five years ago, appeared in a video released by the Taliban in 2011.

"Canada is very pleased that efforts undertaken to secure the release of Colin Rutherford from captivity have been successful," Dion said. "We look forward to Mr. Rutherford being able to return to Canada and reunite with his family and loved ones. 

"The government of Canada will continue to provide Mr. Rutherford with consular assistance and will assist in facilitating his safe return home.‎"

The minister also offered his "heartfelt thanks to the government of Qatar for its assistance in this matter.‎"

Global Affairs Canada refused to comment further on Rutherford's case, including details of Qatar's involvement and whether the government knows of any more Canadians held in Afghanistan, citing privacy.

"The government of Canada will not comment or release any information which may compromise ongoing efforts or endanger the safety of Canadian citizens," spokeswoman Rachna Mishra said in an email to CBC News.

A statement from the Afghan Taliban released Tuesday said the Canadian was freed "on grounds of humanitarian sympathy and sublime Islamic ethics."

The spokesman wrote that the release came after "the intermediation by the Islamic country of Qatar and in accordance with the instructions of the leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Mullah Akhar Muhammad Mansour.]"

'Obviously overjoyed'

Rutherford's mother, Wendy, declined an interview with CBC News, saying it's too soon to discuss specifics of her son's release. 

But Rutherford's brother, Brian, wrote in an email, "We are obviously overjoyed with the news!"

It's unclear when or how he may return to Canada.

Colin Rutherford was on a vacation to Afghanistan five years ago when he was captured. He appeared in a video released by the Taliban in 2011. (Facebook)

An Afghan official on Tuesday described the dramatic scene surrounding Rutherford's release. It involved a helicopter landing to scoop the captive to freedom as fighter jets flew overhead in a remote district in Afghanistan.

Police chief Gen. Aminullah Amarkhil said Rutherford was released at 11 a.m. on Monday in Ghazni province's Giro district.

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.

Rutherford's mother and brother spoke to the CBC in 2011 and said they wanted to make contact with his captors. According to his mother, Rutherford chose to go to Afghanistan out of a love of travel and history.

"It's not exactly the place, maybe, most people would want to go to. But he just loves travel … I know he loves to travel, so I would not stop him from following his dreams," she said.

'This was a poor decision'

Rutherford's brother also acknowledged at the time that his choice of travel destination was not a wise one. 

"Ultimately, at the end of the day, this was a poor decision," he said. "But I don't think any of us expected this to happen to him. Hindsight's always 20-20."

In Feburary of 2011, the Taliban announced the capture of a Canadian from Toronto who had documents on his person describing him as a secret agent. The group accused him of admitting to an involvement in clandestine activities to learn about whereabouts of the Mujahideen [Taliban fighters.] It threatened to put him on trial for being a spy.

But in a video released by the Taliban in May 2011, Rutherford explained that he travelled to Afghanistan as a tourist because he was interested in "history and historical sites, old buildings, shrines."

Rutherford was working as an auditor with the Canadian Circulations Audit Board in Toronto when he went on vacation.

With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press