‘Pablo Escobar of Heroin’ Released in US Prisoner Exchange

‘Pablo Escobar of Heroin’ Released in US Prisoner Exchange

A notorious Afghan drug lord known as the “Pablo Escobar of heroin” was given a hero’s welcome by Taliban leaders after being released from US custody in a prisoner swap.

Bashir Noorzai has spent the last 17 years in a US prison after being convicted for owning opium farms and having links to distribution networks in New York, earning him his nickname from the DEA.

He was released in a prisoner exchange that saw US Navy veteran Mark Frerichs freed. The 60-year-old had been kept hostage since being kidnapped in Afghanistan while working as a civil contractor.

US president Joe Biden said the negotiations that led to Frerichs being released required “difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly. But he called Frerichs’s release 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.”

Noorzai received a huge ovation when he arrived on a commercial plane in Kabul. Taliban fighters lined the streets outside the airport, cheering his return.

Taliban leaders have tried to present the prisoner exchange as a new chapter in relations with the US. In a brief statement to Taliban media outlets thanking the group for making a deal for his release, Noorzai himself said he thought his release could usher in a period of better relations.

Meanwhile, Frerichs’s sister expressed joy at her brother’s return. “I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and on his way home to us. 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,” said Charlene Cakora.

While the Taliban put out very little information about which faction held Frerichs, a video released by the Islamist group’s propaganda media channel showed him standing beside Anas Haqqani, a young leading member of the feared Haqqani Network, a subgroup of the Taliban famous for kidnapping and suicide bombing.

The original clip was removed and re-uploaded without the sections that showed Haqqani and Frerichs standing next to the Qatar Airways aircraft that brought back Noorzai to Kabul.

The post ‘Pablo Escobar of Heroin’ Released in US Prisoner Exchange appeared first on VICE.

Last Update: Tue, 20 Sep 22 11:35:49