Taliban free US engineer Mark Frerichs in prisoner swap | American News

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The Taliban released an American engineer in exchange for an Afghan tribal leader linked to the group that the United States had held since 2005 for drug trafficking.

Mark Frerichs was traded at Kabul airport for Bashir Noorzai, acting Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told a news conference in the Afghan capital.

Noorzai was arrested by the United States on suspicion of smuggling more than $50 million worth of heroin into the United States and Europe.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is ready to solve problems through negotiation with everyone, including the United States,” Muttaqi said, referring to the Taliban.

Frerichs is an engineer and US Navy veteran from Lombard, Illinois, who worked in Afghanistan for a decade on development projects. He was removed in February 2020.

Bashir Noorzai was arrested on suspicion of smuggling more than $50 million worth of heroin into the United States and Europe. Photography: AP

The United States has no official representation in Afghanistan, and U.S. government officials elsewhere were not immediately available for comment.

Washington has pushed for Frerichs’ release, including after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021 as US-led foreign forces withdrew.

US officials have said his case will influence their views on the legitimacy of a Taliban-led government. No foreign government has officially recognized the Taliban, in part because of the group’s restriction of most girls from education.

Noorzai briefly addressed the press conference at a Kabul hotel, alongside Muttaqi and the Taliban’s acting deputy prime ministers. “I am proud to be in the capital of my country among my brothers,” he said. The tribal leader had longstanding ties to the Taliban.

Noorzai’s attorney had denied that his client was a drug trafficker and argued that the charges should be dismissed because US government officials had tricked him into believing he would not be arrested.

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