A U.S. civil engineer who disappeared in Afghanistan in 2020 has been released by the Taliban in exchange for an Afghan drug lord who was sentenced to a life term in prison by a U.S. court, Afghan authorities confirmed.
Speaking at a press conference, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said the swap of famous drug dealer Haji Bashir Noorzai for U.S. national Mark Frerichs took place with a U.S. delegation in Kabul’s International Airport Monday.
The U.S. authorities have not commented on the prisoner swap yet.
It was suspected for a long time that Frerichs had been abducted by the Haqqanis, a notorious network within the Taliban, who demanded the release of Noorzai.
Noorzai was a financial supporter of the Taliban during their first period in power in the 1990s but was hired as an undercover agent on behalf of the U.S. government in the early 2000s.
He was arrested in 2005 in the U.S. for heroin smuggling and sentenced to life in prison.
After his release, Noorzai was welcomed Monday at Kabul airport by the Taliban’s notorious GDI intelligence forces with flowers. Later he spoke at a televised event at a grand hotel in the city.
Noorzai said he was in prison for more than 17 years and his release would have been "impossible" without the Taliban’s efforts.
He also hoped that his release will bring the relations between the Taliban in Kabul and Washington closer.
The Taliban has a history of hostage-taking in return for ransom or other political aims.
In June, five British nationals being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan were released from detention. Simultaneously, London announced it does not support anyone seeking to achieve political change through violence in Afghanistan.