Biden Admin Frees Afghan ‘Heroin Warlord’ in Taliban Prisoner Swap

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration shows Bashir Noorz
DEA via Getty

The Taliban jihadist terror organization confirmed the arrival in Afghanistan on Monday of convicted heroin “kingpin” Bashir Noorzai, a terrorist-affiliated warlord the administration of leftist President Joe Biden freed in exchange for American engineer Mark Frerichs.

Noorzai was sentenced to life in prison in America in 2009 for attempting to smuggle upwards of $50 million in heroin into the United States. Officials accused Noorzai of being a critical funder of the Taliban, using his position as a high-ranking tribal leader to administer opium fields and heroin laboratories used to fund the war against the United States.

The drug kingpin’s release follows a similar move in June in which the Biden administration released Assadullah Haroon Gul, an al-Qaeda-linked detainee, to Taliban custody from the Guantánamo Bay prison facility.

The Taliban is currently the de facto government of Afghanistan, facing no serious challenges (former President Ashraf Ghani claims to remain in office, but in exile and with no power). Only fellow rogue states recognize Taliban leaders as official representatives of Afghanistan, however. China and Iran recognize the Taliban as an “interim” government. The United Nations has greenlit cooperation with the Taliban terrorists, but does not recognize them as government officials, referring to them in official documents only as “relevant Afghan political actors.”

The Associated Press reported Frerichs’s release on Monday citing his family. Frerichs, a Navy veteran, had been working in Afghanistan as a contractor for a decade before Taliban-linked terrorists kidnapped him in 2020. He was working in a civilian capacity on engineering projects.

“Mark is a civil engineer who was helping with construction projects for the benefit of the Afghan people when he was taken captive.  Despite his innocence, he remains held hostage by the Taliban and its affiliates,” the State Department noted on the second anniversary of his abduction in January.

The Associated Press

Bashir Noorzai, center, a senior Taliban detainee held at Guantanamo attends his release ceremony, at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban, told reporters he spent 17 years and six months in the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and that he was the last Taliban prisoner there. Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said Monday that the released American was Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran and civilian contractor kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Frerichs was believed to have been abducted by the Haqqani Network, a notorious terrorist organization that serves as a bridge between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Multiple Haqqani Network leaders have taken on leadership roles in the Taliban’s government, most prominently “interior minister” Salahuddin Haqqani.

The Biden administration claimed last year following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan that the Haqqani Network and the Taliban were “separate entities.”

Frerichs’s sister Charlene Cakora issued a statement on Monday confirming the engineer was free and home.

“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,” the statement read, according to the Associated Press. “We never gave up hope that he would survive and come home safely to us.”

The Associated Press quoted Taliban “foreign affairs minister” Amir Khan Muttaqi celebrating the trade on Monday as a “new chapter” in ties between the group and America.

“This can be a new chapter between Afghanistan and the United States, this can open a new door for talks between both countries,” he said at a press conference to welcome Noorzai. “This act shows us that all problems can be solved through talks and I thank both sides’ teams who worked so hard for this to happen.”

Taliban leaders used their official media networks and spokesmen to celebrate Noorzai’s return home, describing him as a “patriot” who had suffered for love of country and notably omitting any reference to his heroin empire in their communications.

“By the grace of almighty Allah … Haji Bashir Noorzai was released after spending 17 years behind bars,” the Taliban’s officials Bakhtar News Agency declared on Twitter, citing Taliban terror leaders. Bakhtar published videos of Noorzai sharing quality time with Taliban leaders.

Bakhtar published an article celebrating Noorzai as a survivor “of the cruelty that Afghans have endured for the crime of patriotism.” The article claimed that Noorzai was arrested because he traveled to New York in 2005 for “peace talks” with America, depicting his arrest as an arbitrary move by Washington and describing the charges against him as “groundless.” The article admitted that Noorzai was vaguely “engaged in business” and mentioned charges of “drug trafficking” but did not mention heroin or the use of heroin sales to fund terrorism.

Bakhtar concluded, “the release of Bashar Noorzai cannot be the end of the work. There are other Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo prison and other U.S. prisons who are prisoners without any crime and should be released.”

Reports have not clarified what facility was housing Noorzai when he was released, though it is unlikely to have been Guantánamo, a site used to house suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks. The Biden administration has released at least one Guantánamo detainee to the Taliban, however: Assadullah Haroon Gul, a suspected member of an al-Qaeda militia who had written opinion pieces for Newsweek on the Black Lives Matter movement while in custody. Gul was released in June; Taliban officials vowed at the time to continue working internationally to bring home Afghans imprisoned during the post-9/11 “war on terror” on charges of jihad.

In Kabul, Noorzai celebrated the Taliban for helping release him.

“I pray for more success of the Taliban,” he told reporters at a press conference. “I hope this exchange can lead to peace between Afghanistan and America, because an American was released and I am also free now.”

Follow his arrest in 2005, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) accused Noorzai of “conspiring to import more than $50 million worth of heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan into the United States and other countries.” Washington formally designated Noorzai under the “Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.” The DEA noted that the “tens of millions” in heroin profits Noorzai generated were used in part to help the Taliban kill Americans.

“According to the Indictment, BASHIR NOORZAI was closely aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan,” the DEA’s official statement at the time of his arrest read. “During the course of the conspiracy, the Indictment charged that the Noorzai Organization provided demolitions, weaponry, and manpower to the Taliban. In exchange for its support, the Taliban provided the Noorzai Organization with protection for its opium crops, heroin laboratories, drug-transportation routes, and members and associates, it was charged.”

Four years later, Noorzai was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

“BASHIR NOORZAI’s worldwide narcotics network supported a Taliban regime that made Afghanistan a breeding ground for international terrorism, a legacy that continues to destabilize the region,” Acting United States Attorney Lev L. Dassin said in a 2009 Justice Department announcement of his conviction. “Today’s sentence definitively puts an end to Noorzai’s long criminal career.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.