American held captive in Afghanistan for more than 2 years is released in prisoner swap


“Bringing Mark home has been a top priority for President Biden and his national security team,” the official said.

Haji Bashir Noorzai, a prominent Taliban member who spent 17 years in prison in the US on drug trafficking charges, was pardoned as part of the deal, the official said.

Frerichs, an Illinois Navy veteran, was kidnapped in late January 2020 while doing construction contracts in Afghanistan. He is said to be held by the Haqqani Network, a faction of the Taliban. He was missing for less than a month before the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban.

Frerichs was able to walk into the plane under his own power, a source familiar with the case said, and his physical and mental condition appear to be good. He is currently in Doha, Qatar.

Frerichs’ family praised Biden for securing his release, along with his sister, Charlene Cakora, and said in a statement: “There were people arguing against the deal that brought Mark home, but President Biden did the right thing. . He saved the life of an innocent American veteran.”

“I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and on his way home to us. Our family has prayed for this every day in the more than 31 months he has been held hostage,” Cakora said. “We never gave up hope that he would survive and make it to our home safely.”

Earlier this year, The New Yorker published a video in which Frerichs called for his release — the first time the Illinois resident had been seen in years.

“I’ve been patiently waiting for my release,” Frerichs said in the short video, which he says will be shot on November 28, 2021.

Since her brother’s kidnapping, Cakora has called on the US government to do more to secure his release, and those calls have escalated ahead of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration secured the release of Afghan-US naval reservist Safi Rauf and his brother Anees Khalil, a US green card holder who had been detained by the Taliban since December.

Months of negotiations

The Biden administration conducted months of negotiations with the Taliban to secure Frerichs’ freedom, a senior government official said Monday, and the president decided in June to pardon Noorzai if it led to the jailed American’s release.

Speaking to reporters, the official said it became clear that releasing Noorzai was “the key to securing Mark’s overdue freedom”, but the decision on leniency for the Afghan drug trafficker was a “tough one”.

The government sees no equality between Noorzai, who was serving a 17-year prison sentence in the US, and Frerichs. Noorzai was not detained at Guantanamo Bay, despite reports that he was, the official said.

“We consulted US government experts who determined that the (release) of Noorzai in Afghanistan would not materially change the risk to Americans coming out of the country or the nature of the drug trade there,” the official said. .

Weeks after Biden made the decision on Noorzai, the president authorized the attack that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul.

“As we also said publicly at the time, immediately after the strike, we told the Taliban that we would hold them directly responsible if Mark was harmed, and that was the best way they could restore trust with the United States. ” , with the world, was to release Mark immediately,” the official said.

The official said the opportunity for the swap finally presented itself this month, and the administration “acted very quickly”. But they wouldn’t say where Frerichs had been held during his more than two years of captivity, nor would they say whether the US had given the Taliban anything else for Frerichs’ release.

A second senior government official said the US would continue to make clear to the Taliban that they must end the hostage crisis if they are to gain recognition from the international community.

The first official would not say whether the Taliban is keeping other Americans at home. They said they were aware of the matter of American filmmaker Ivor Shearer and his producer, who were detained by the Taliban in August, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, but did not provide further details.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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