The change is likely one of the most important prisoner swaps to happen below the Biden administration, coming five months after a separate deal with Russia that resulted within the launch of Marine veteran Trevor Reed. It occurred regardless of issues from his household and different advocates that the U.S. army departure from Afghanistan, and the collapse of the federal government there, may make it more durable to convey him house and will deflect consideration away from his imprisonment.
President Joe Biden, who’s within the U.Ok. to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, known as Frerichs’s household on Monday morning to share the “excellent news” that his administration was in a position to safe his launch, in line with a senior administration official.
The official, who was not approved to remark publicly and spoke on the situation of anonymity, known as the choice to grant Noorzai clemency a “troublesome resolution” however mandatory to be able to reunite a U.S. citizen along with his household.
A sister of Frerichs, who’s from Lombard, Illinois, thanked U.S. authorities officers who helped safe her brother’s launch.
“I’m so completely satisfied to listen to that my brother is secure and on his manner house to us. Our household has prayed for this every day of the greater than 31 months he has been a hostage. We by no means gave up hope that he would survive and are available house safely to us,” mentioned a press release from the sister, Charlene Cakora.
In Afghanistan, Noorzai informed reporters at a press convention that he had been launched from an unspecified U.S. jail and handed over earlier within the day to the Taliban in Kabul, in change for an American prisoner held in Afghanistan whom he didn’t establish. Frerichs’ household subsequently confirmed that it was him.
Frerichs, 60, had been engaged on civil engineering tasks on the time of his Jan. 31, 2020 abduction in Kabul. He was last seen in a video posted last spring by The New Yorker i n which he appeared in conventional Afghan clothes and pleaded for his launch. The publication mentioned it obtained the clip from an unidentified particular person in Afghanistan.
Till Monday, U.S. officers throughout two presidential administrations had tried unsuccessfully to get him house. Even earlier than their takeover of Afghanistan in August final 12 months, the Taliban had demanded the U.S. launch Noorzai in change for Frerichs. However there had been no public signal of Washington continuing with any form of commerce or change alongside these strains.
Eric Lebson, a former U.S. authorities nationwide safety official who had been advising Frerichs’ household, mentioned in a press release that “every little thing about this case has been an uphill struggle.” He criticized the Trump administration for having given away “our leverage to get Mark house rapidly by signing a peace accord with the Taliban with out ever having requested them to return Mark first.
“Mark’s household then needed to navigate two Administrations, the place many individuals considered Mark’s secure return as an obstacle to their plans for Afghanistan,” the assertion mentioned.
The collapse of the Western-backed Afghan authorities and takeover by the Taliban in August 2021, raised further concern that any progress in negotiations may very well be undone or that Frerichs may very well be forgotten.
However his identify surfaced final month when President Joe Biden, who had publicly known as for Frerichs’ launch, was mentioned by his advisers to have pressed officers to think about any threat posed to Frerichs by the drone strike in Afghanistan that killed al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri.
The Taliban-appointed international minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, additionally spoke on the Kabul press convention alongside Noorzai and welcomed the change, saying it marked the beginning of a “new period” in U.S.-Taliban relations.
“This could be a new chapter between Afghanistan and the US, this may open a brand new door for talks between each nations,” Muttaqi mentioned on the presser.
“This act exhibits us that every one issues could be solved by means of talks and I thank each side’ groups who labored so arduous for this to occur,” he added.
The Taliban additionally posted a short video Monday on social media exhibiting Noorzai’s arrival on the Kabul airport the place he was welcomed by high Taliban officers, together with Muttaqi.
On the press convention, Noorzai expressed thankfulness at seeing his “mujahedeen brothers” — a reference to the Taliban — in Kabul.
“I pray for extra success of the Taliban,” he added. “I hope this change can result in peace between Afghanistan and America, as a result of an American was launched and I’m additionally free now.”