The Taliban said they exchanged American engineer Mark Frerichs for the US’s freeing a senior Taliban figure on Monday.
“Today, Mark Frerichs was handed over to the US, and Haji Bashir was handed over to us at Kabul airport,” Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told a press conference in Afghanistan’s capital. Muttaqi said the exchange happened “after long negotiations.”
Hours after the Taliban statement, Frerichs’ family confirmed that he was freed.
The US Navy veteran was working in Afghanistan as a civil engineer on construction projects when he was taken hostage in January 2020.
The US has been pushing for the release of Frerichs after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden, who is in the UK to attend Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, called Frerichs’ family on Monday morning to share the “good news” that his administration was able to secure his release, according to a senior official.
A sister of Frerichs, who is from Lombard, Illinois, thanked US government officials who helped secure her brother’s release.
“I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and on his way home to us. Our family has prayed for this each day of the more than 31 months he has been a hostage. We never gave up hope that he would survive and come home safely to us,” Charlene Cakora said.
Taliban drug kingpin released Haji Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan tribal leader, was arrested in 2005 and charged with smuggling over $50 million worth of heroin into the United States.
He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on heroin importation and distribution conspiracy charges.
Noorzai briefly addressed the news conference at a Kabul hotel, alongside Muttaqi. “I am proud to be in the capital of my country among my brothers,” he said.
Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesperson based in Doha, posted a picture of him back in Kabul.
محترم حاجي محمد بشر له دوو لسیزو بند ورسته ازاد او نن کابل ته را ورسید pic.twitter.com/XA1ntqQ6VP
— Dr.M.Naeem (@IeaOffice) September 19, 2022
Another Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told the AFP news agency that Noorzai held no official position in the Taliban but “provided strong support including weapons” as the hard-line Islamist movement emerged in the 1990s.