American engineer Mark Frerichs was freed by the Taliban in Afghanistan on Monday in exchange for Afghan tribal leader, Bashir Noorzai, after President Biden approved a prisoner swap.
After negotiating with the Taliban for months, President Biden agreed to grant amnesty to Bashir Noorzai, a convicted drug lord with ties to the Taliban. Noorzai was detained in 2005 and convicted in 2008 of running a drug smuggling operation that brought heroin worth more than $50 million into the United States and Europe. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 and has spent over 15 years in US custody.
The Taliban announced the exchange overnight, and Noorzai was seen at a news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Speaking at a news conference, Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said that Mark Frerichs, who was captured in 2020 while working as an engineer in Afghanistan, was freed, and the exchange happened at Kabul Airport.
According to President Joe Biden, Frerichs’ release resulted from work done by US officials and other governments. The Biden administration has been pressured by the families of numerous American citizens captured and detained by hostile foreign countries.
According to Reuters, a senior US administration official confirmed that Biden had approved Noorzai’s release.
Noorzai’s lawyer refuted all claims that his client was a drug dealer and called for Noorzai’s charges to be dropped, saying that US officials tricked him into trusting that he would not be arrested.
Before his abduction in February 2020, Mark Frerichs, a US navy veteran and engineer from Lombard, Illinois, had worked in Afghanistan for over a decade.
Upon his release, Frerichs was transported to Doha, Qatar. He arrived there around 1:30 p.m., and a source close to him confirmed that he seemed to be in good health. It is not yet known when he will arrive back home.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, spoke at an event at the United Nations in New York City and thanked the government of Qatar for their help in Frerichs’ release.
Mark Frerichs’ family was overjoyed to hear of his release, and his sister, Charlene Cakora, praised President Biden for making the deal to bring her brother back home.
The Biden administration has made several efforts to release people detained by foreign governments. Negotiations are underway with Russian diplomats to release Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, and Brittney Griner, a basketball star, in exchange for Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer.
Secretary Blinken said the Biden administration will “bring the same determination and focus” to free other Americans “arbitrarily and unjustly detained” abroad.
The United States government is also in talks with the Syrian Government over the release of Austin Tice, a journalist, and with the Venezuelan government over the detention of several American citizens.
According to a US administration official, Frerichs’ release had been among President Biden’s top priorities even after US-led foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021 when the Taliban regained control in the country.
Biden decided to free Noorzai in exchange for Frerichs in June, before the US drone strike on July 31 that killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al Qaeda leader in Kabul. According to another US official, they warned the Taliban that the US would hold them directly responsible if any harm were to come to Frerichs, and the way to begin building trust with the US was by releasing him immediately.