'He deserves to come home': Family pleads for release of Lombard native held captive by Taliban
One day after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, the sister of a Lombard native held hostage by the insurgent group pleaded with U.S. government officials to secure his release, taking her family's appeal directly to the White House.
Mark Frerichs, a civil engineer and Navy veteran, was abducted in the Afghan capital of Kabul at the end of January 2020.
On Monday, his sister, Charlene Cakora, said she and her husband met with officials from the National Security Council, State Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in an effort to bring Frerichs home.
Cakora said she was at the White House just before President Joe Biden addressed the "rapid collapse" of the Afghan government to Taliban forces. Biden made no mention of Frerichs in his speech.
"We don't question the President's reasons for getting out of Afghanistan," Cakora said in a statement. "We needed to hear why he didn't use any leverage to get my brother home and what he's prepared to do now."
The family and other advocates have voiced frustrations with both the Biden and Trump administrations over their handling of negotiations to free Frerichs.
"We have been begging government officials in this administration to make Mark's freedom a priority," Cakora said. "We listened to government people during the last administration telling us to be patient -- but they never lifted a finger to free my brother. We have been hearing the same things from this administration. They kept telling us they had time, they had leverage. Well, they didn't."
Cakora also responded to published reports that the Taliban has sought the release of a drug trafficker sentenced to life in U.S. prison in exchange for Frerichs.
"We don't like the idea of seeing a drug trafficker go free, but that is who the Taliban wants," Cakora said. "He's been in prison here for 16 years. If sending him home gets my brother back safely to us, I support it."
As far as she can tell, Cakora said the prisoner swap is "the only viable option."
"If the Biden administration is not prepared to support this trade, then they need to tell us what they are prepared to do instead," she said.
On the anniversary of Frerichs' abduction, Illinois' two Democratic senators raised concerns that the exit of American troops in Afghanistan would leave U.S. officials without their "largest point of leverage" in talks to free him and other American hostages in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"Further troop withdrawals that are not conditioned upon the release of American hostages will likely make it harder to subsequently secure their release," Sens. Dick Durbin of Springfield and Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates wrote in a letter to Biden in January.
Durbin on Monday said: "We must ensure we bring all Americans, including Mark Frerichs, safely home. And we must also keep our commitment to help those Afghans who helped the U.S. effort to safely leave as well."
And Duckworth issued a statement Monday night. "Right now, my attention is focused on the evacuation, which includes ensuring our nation leaves absolutely no stone unturned in our efforts to secure the safe return of my constituents, including American hostage Mark Frerichs, as well as all Americans in Afghanistan and on safely evacuating as many of our Afghan partners as possible."
Frerichs went to Glenbard East High School in Lombard. His father, Art Frerichs, has lived in town since 1960.
"He's very talented, and he's pretty much like a MacGyver," Art Frerichs said. "He can come up with a lot of solutions for any problem."
His son had been living in Kabul, working as a civil engineer, for 10 years before his kidnapping.
"We want our troops to come home safely to their families, but my brother is a Navy veteran and a good man -- he deserves to come home to his family, too," Cakora said. "We have been patient and we trusted our government. Now we need results."