ISLAMABAD (AP) — A senior Taliban detainee held for years at Guantanamo Bay said Monday he was released and handed over earlier in the day to the Taliban in Kabul, in exchange for an American prisoner 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 U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and that he was the last Taliban prisoner there.
The Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi also spoke at the press conference alongside Noorzai and welcomed the exchange, saying it marked the start of a “new era” in U.S.-Taliban relations.
Muttaqi said the released American was Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran and civilian contractor kidnapped in Afghanistan on Jan. 31, 2020. He was last seen in a video 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. In the video, Frerichs says it was filmed last November.
Frerichs, of Lombard, Illinois, was believed to be held by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, and U.S. officials across two presidential administrations have tried unsuccessfully to get him home.
There was no independent confirmation or word from Washington on Frerichs’ release.
Since their takeover of Afghanistan in August last year, the Taliban have demanded the United States release Noorzai in exchange for Frerichs amid expectations of such exchanges for U.S. citizens held in Afghanistan.
However, Washington has not moved forward on any sort of prisoner trade or exchange.
The Taliban posted a brief video Monday on social media showing Noorzai’s arrival at the Kabul airport where he was welcomed by top Taliban officials, including Muttaqi.