'Release me': Video of Lombard native being held hostage in Afghanistan gives family hope
A video of American hostage Mark Frerichs, a Lombard native held in Taliban custody, shows the Navy veteran pleading for his release in a brief recording obtained by The New Yorker.
Government officials are assessing the video, the magazine reported Friday. But the taped message gives a new glimmer of hope to Frerichs' family and his sister's crusade for his freedom. It's the first time the public has seen the civil engineering contractor since Jan. 31, 2020 -- the day he was abducted in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
"We are grateful to the Taliban for sharing a proof of life video of Mark," his sister Charlene Cakora said Friday in a statement. "This is public confirmation of our family's long-held belief that he is alive after more than two years in captivity."
Journalist Michael Ames obtained the video from an unidentified source in Afghanistan. In roughly 30 seconds of footage, Frerichs appears seated, speaking methodically, wearing a beard, in front of a dark backdrop. He states the date is Nov. 28, 2021.
"Release me so that I may be reunited with my family," he says. "Thank you."
His abductors likely used the pretense of a new engineering project to lure Frerichs to a meeting in Kabul, took him against his will to a known haven for the Taliban along the Pakistan border, and then transferred him into the custody of the Haqqani network. The insurgent group is closely aligned with the Taliban.
"We consider this to be an important indicator of the Taliban's interest in seeking to arrange for Mark's immediate release," Cakora said.
She urged President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken "to take bold and decisive action to bring Mark home."
"President Biden, statements are not enough. You have had a way to bring Mark home since you took office. Now we need you to act. Please don't leave my brother behind," Cakora said. "It is time to bring home the only American currently held hostage in Afghanistan."
Frerichs was taken hostage a month before the United States signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020. With the withdrawal of the last American troops from Afghanistan, his family and home-state lawmakers worried U.S. negotiators lost another point of leverage.
The family believes a prisoner exchange with the Taliban may be Frerichs' best chance at returning home. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat who has advocated for Frerichs' release, expressed support for a swap.
"As the only remaining U.S. hostage of the war in Afghanistan, we owe it to Mark Frerichs and his family to pull every possible lever we can to bring home this Navy Veteran who served our nation honorably," Duckworth said in a statement Friday. "Bashir Noorzai cooperated with our government by providing intelligence and helping us recover weapons from the Taliban for years and, as an elderly man in poor health, he is unlikely to return to any position of operational significance for the Taliban.
"At this point releasing him -- after he served nearly 17 years in prison -- appears to be the only way to secure Mark's safe return, so I would support the Administration taking this step to ensure an American is not left behind."
An Afghan tribal leader, Noorzai was arrested in New York in 2005 on heroin drug trafficking charges and sentenced to life in U.S. prison four years later.
"We understand that the Taliban have been clear about what they want, repeatedly telling the U.S. government and media the same answer each time they were asked how Mark can come home," Cakora said earlier this year.
She's kept a map of Afghanistan on her dining room wall. Growing up, her brother earned the nickname "Magic Mike" because he was "always entertaining family, friends, and neighbors with his magic and making people laugh."
"Mark, we love you and are doing all we can to bring you home," Cakora said. "Please do not lose hope."