ISLAMABAD (TBEN) — A senior Taliban detainee who was held for years in Guantanamo Bay said on Monday he was released and handed over to the Taliban in Kabul earlier in the day in exchange for an American detainee 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 in Guantanamo Bay and that he was the last Taliban prisoner there.
Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi also spoke with Noorzai at the press conference 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 kidnapped in Afghanistan on Jan. 31, 2020. He was last seen in a video circulated earlier this year, in which he begged for his release so he can be reunited with his family. , according to a recording posted by The New Yorker magazine at the time.
There was no independent confirmation or report from Washington of Frerichs’ release.
“This could be a new chapter between Afghanistan and the United States, it could open a new door for talks between the two countries,” Muttaqi told the press in Kabul.
“This act shows us that all problems can be solved through talks and I thank the teams from both sides who have worked so hard to make this happen,” Muttaqi added.
Frerichs, of Lombard, Illinois, was believed to have been detained by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, and U.S. officials from two presidential governments had tried unsuccessfully to get him home. The video, which marked the first time Frerichs had been seen since his kidnapping, said it was filmed last November.
Since their takeover of Afghanistan last August, the Taliban have demanded that the United States release Noorzai in exchange for Frerichs, in anticipation of such exchanges for American citizens detained in Afghanistan.
However, there is no sign of Washington making progress with any form of prisoner trade or exchange.
The Taliban also posted a short video on social media on Monday showing Noorzai’s arrival at the Kabul airport, where he was welcomed by top Taliban officials, including Muttaqi.
At the press conference, Noorzai expressed his gratitude for seeing his “mujahedeen brothers” – a reference to the Taliban – in Kabul.
“I pray for more success for the Taliban,” he added. “I hope this exchange can lead to peace between Afghanistan and America, because an American has been released and I am now free.”