ISLAMABAD (AP) – A senior Taliban detainee held for years at Guantanamo Bay said Monday he had been released and handed over earlier in the day to the Taliban in Kabul, in exchange for an American prisoner being held in Afghanistan.
Bashir Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban, told reporters in Kabul that he spent 17 years and six months in the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where he was the last prisoner of the Taliban.
Taliban-appointed foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi spoke at the press conference alongside Noorzai and welcomed the exchange, saying it marked the beginning of a “new era” in US-Taliban relations.
Muttaqi said the American released was Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran and civilian contractor who was kidnapped in Afghanistan on January 31, 2020. Frerichs was last seen in a video distributed earlier this year, pleading for his release so that he can be reunited with his family. , according to a recording posted by The New Yorker magazine at the time.
There was no confirmation or independent word from Washington on Frerichs’ release.
“This can be a new chapter between Afghanistan and the United States, this can open a new door for talks between the two countries,” said Muttaqi at the Kabul presser.
“This act shows us that all problems can be solved through talks and I thank the teams of both sides who worked so hard to make this happen,” Muttaqi added.
Frerichs, of Lombard, Illinois, was believed to be a member of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, and US officials over two presidential administrations tried unsuccessfully to get him home. In the video, which showed the first time Frerichs has been seen since the kidnapping, he says it was filmed last November.
Videos of hostages are sometimes released to show proof that they are alive and to facilitate negotiations for release, although it was not immediately clear if that was the case. The New Yorker said it obtained the clip from an unidentified individual in Afghanistan.
At the time, the FBI declined to comment on the video’s authenticity, but Frerichs’ sister, Charlene Cakora, released a statement thanking the Taliban for releasing the video and describing it as “a public declaration of a long-standing belief our family it is. alive after more than two years in captivity.”
Since taking over Afghanistan in August last year, the Taliban have demanded the release of Noorzai to the United States in exchange for Frerichs amid expectations of similar exchanges for US citizens in Afghanistan.
However, there was no public sign that Washington was moving forward on any sort of trade or prisoner exchange.
The Taliban also posted a short video on Monday on social media showing Noorzai’s arrival at Kabul airport where she was welcomed by top Taliban officials, including Muttaqi.
At the press conference, Noorzai expressed gratitude for seeing his “mujahedeen brothers” – a reference to the Taliban – in Kabul.
“I pray that the Taliban will do better,” he said. “I hope that this exchange will lead to peace between Afghanistan and America, because an American was released and I am also free now.”
Noorzai made no mention of his treatment at Guantanamo Bay, the detention center used to house Muslim militants, including al-Qaida fighters, the Taliban and suspects captured by US forces. in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US
The facility has become the focus of controversy around the world over alleged violations of detainees’ legal rights under the Geneva Conventions and allegations of torture or ill-treatment of detainees by US authorities.
After 9/11, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan took on the Taliban who had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his followers. Bin Laden was killed in a US raid in Pakistan in 2011.