US Releases Closest Ally of Taliban Founder in Latest Guantanamo Prisoner Swap
11:08 GMT 19.09.2022 (Updated: 20:36 GMT 19.10.2022)
Haji Bashir Noorzai was liberated in exchange for US Navy veteran and civil engineer Mark Frerichs, who was believed to be the last US hostage remaining in Taliban* custody following the NATO withdrawal from war-torn Afghanistan in August last year.
In a prisoner swap deal with the Taliban on Monday, the US handed over a senior member of the group, Haji Bashir Noorzai, after detaining him in Guantanamo for nearly two decades on charges of drug smuggling, which he denied.
Noorzai is considered one of the closest figures to Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban movement.
Afghanistan's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said on Monday that Noorzai was released in exchange for US citizen Mark Frerichs, kidnapped from Kabul in February 2020.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is ready to solve problems by negotiation with all including the US,” Muttaqi said, adding the exchange happened "after long negotiations".
"Haji Bashir was released after two decades of imprisonment and arrived in Kabul today," Mohammad Naeem, Islamic Emirate's Qatar-based political office spokesman, said in a tweet.
A Qatar Airways Boeing C-17 Globe Master lll brought Noorzai to Kabul from US Air Base Al-Udeid, Qatar, on Monday, a day after navy veteran Frerichs was transported on Qatar Emiri Airforce C-17 Globe Master lll to Doha.
The video released by the Taliban shows a grand welcome to Noorzai by the group's fighters in Kabul.
Speaking at a gathering in Kabul, Noorzai said that his exchange for Mark Frerichs will help resolve problems between Afghanistan and the US.
Noorzai was sentenced in 2009 to life in prison by a US court on drug smuggling charges, four years after his arrest.
* Organization under UN sanctions for terrorist activities