Lombard native freed in exchange for Afghan tribal leader imprisoned in U.S. on drug trafficking changes
The long ordeal of Lombard native Mark Frerichs being held hostage in Afghanistan has finally ended. And it is indeed a happy ending for him and his family.
After over two years of being held captive by the Taliban, senior Biden Administration officials confirmed Monday that Frerichs has been released following a prisoner swap.
Frerichs was exchanged for Haji Bashir Noorzai, who had been in U.S. custody for 17 years on drug trafficking charges and was sentenced to life in prison in 2009. Noorzai, an Afghan tribal leader linked to the Taliban, was granted clemency by President Joe Biden as part of the deal.
“His (Frerichs’) release is the culmination of years of tireless work by dedicated public servants across our government and other partner governments, and I want to thank them for all that effort,” Biden said in a statement on Monday. “Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a successful resolution required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly. Our priority now is to make sure Mark receives a healthy and safe return and is given the space and time he needs to transition back into society.”
According to Reuters, the exchange took place at Kabul airport. Frerichs arrived in Doha, Qatar by plane from Kabul at around 5:30 a.m. Central Time on Monday, and was reported to be in good health.
Frerichs, a U.S. Navy veteran, had been living and working in Kabul for 10 years as a civil engineer until his abduction in late January, 2020.
“I am grateful to our State Department team and to our broader national security professionals as well as to our partners in Qatar,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “Mark’s return to his loved ones is the result of intense engagement with the Taliban. Our commitment to bring Mark home never wavered, and it will never waver for the Americans who are held captive anywhere around the world.”
Biden spoke with Charlene Cakora, Frerichs’ sister, on Monday to inform her of her brother’s release. She and Frerichs’ father, Art Frerichs, both live in Lombard.
“I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and on his way home to us,” she said in a statement. “Our family has prayed for this each day of the more than 31 months he has been a hostage. We never gave up hope that he would survive and come home safely to us.
“We are grateful to President Biden, Secretary Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and (Illinois U.S.) Senators (Tammy) Duckworth and (Dick) Durbin for their efforts to free Mark. Sen. Duckworth got personally involved—advocating tirelessly within our government to get him home.
“My brother is alive and safe because President Biden took action.”
“It’s a profound relief that Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran who served our nation honorably, is now safely back in American hands after being kidnapped in Afghanistan more than two and a half years ago,” said Duckworth, herself a veteran and a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonial. “I’m thrilled that his family, who have long been Mark’s champions, will get to reunite with him. I applaud President Biden, who I spoke with personally about the need to get Mark home, for taking the steps necessary to prove that we do not leave Americans behind.”
“I am deeply heartened by Mark’s long overdue release and the relief it will bring to him and his family,” Durbin added. “The tragic and cruel use of him as a hostage has finally come to an end.”
According to senior officials, the Biden Administration negotiated with the Taliban for months to secure Frerichs’ release. In April, a video surfaced that showed Frerichs in captivity. In the video, Frerichs was shown wearing Afghan clothes and had a short beard. The video was around 30 seconds long. Frerichs said in the video that it was recorded on Nov. 28, 2021.
“When U.S. troops departed Afghanistan and we ended America’s longest war last year, we remained committed to bringing Mark home, as we said publicly at the time,” a senior official said in a press briefing Monday. “Since then, we’ve raised Mark’s case with the Taliban at every opportunity and we’ve regularly reminded them that Mark had done nothing wrong and that releasing Mark had to occur before the Taliban could hope for better relations with the United States. We undertook months of tough negotiations with the Taliban for Mark’s release.”