Mark Frerichs was lured to meeting, kidnapped in Kabul in January 2020
LOMBARD, Ill. (WLS) -- A Lombard man who has been held captive by the Taliban for more than two years has been released after a prisoner swap.
Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran, was in Afghanistan working as a civil engineer on construction projects when he was lured into a meeting where he was kidnapped in 2020.
Bashir Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban, said he was returned to Kabul, in exchange for Frerichs being released.
Frerichs' family says he's currently undergoing a medical evaluation, and one of his first tastes of freedom was a long, hot shower.
"We're elated that he's finally got released. I mean, it's long overdue," said Art Frerichs, Mark's father. "I've had so many people praying for him and everything."
Frerichs' loved-ones never gave up. At an auto repair shop owned by Art, a sign to President Joe Biden speaks to the family's commitment. They've yet to speak with Frerichs on the phone, but he's said to be in generally good health at a U.S. base in Doha, Qatar.
"Mark is kind of a survivor, and I honestly thought somewhere along the line he'd come through," Art said.
Frerichs was last seen in a video earlier this year pleading to be reunited with his family.
Frerich's sister, Charlene Cakora, said in a statement, "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.
"We are grateful to President Biden, Secretary Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and Senators Duckworth and Durbin for their efforts to free Mark. Senator Duckworth got personally involved - advocating tirelessly within our government to get him home.
"My brother is alive and safe because President Biden took action. There were some folks arguing against the deal that brought Mark home, but President Biden did what was right. He saved the life of an innocent American veteran.
"We also want to thank the countless people at the State Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and National Security Council who worked diligently to support us and push other elements of the US Government to make Mark's safe return a priority. Ambassador Roger Carstens, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, was personally involved after Mark was taken and his efforts to raise Mark's profile in both the Trump and Biden Administrations were important factors in today's result."
"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."
President Joe Biden said he spoke with Frerichs' sister to share the news of the release.
"Our priority now is to make sure Mark receives a healthy and safe return and is given the space and time he needs to transition back into society," Biden said.
Eric Lebson, a former national security official, who worked as a volunteer to advise Frerichs' family, said in a statement, "Everything about this case has been an uphill fight. Initially the Trump Administration gave away our leverage to get Mark home quickly by signing a peace accord with the Taliban without ever having asked them to return Mark first. Mark's family then had to navigate two Administrations, where many people viewed Mark's safe return as an impediment to their plans for Afghanistan.
"There was a small group of dedicated folks - both in government and outside - who worked hard to keep Mark's name in the news, created options, and helped get a decision in front of President Biden. Mark is free today because there are people who truly want to bring Americans home from hostage or wrongful detention abroad and President Biden has shown he is among that group.
"We hope that President Biden's actions are an indicator of his commitment to do the same on an urgent basis for other Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. They are being held because they are Americans and they need the US Government to bring them home."
Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth also released statements Monday morning on the release of Frerichs.
"It's a profound relief that Mark Frerichs, a Navy Veteran who served our nation honorably, is now safely back in American hands after being kidnapped in Afghanistan more than two and a half years ago," said Duckworth. "I'm thrilled that his family, who have long been Mark's champions, will get to reunite with him. I applaud President Biden, who I spoke with personally about the need to get Mark home, for taking the steps necessary to prove that we do not leave Americans behind."
"I am deeply heartened by Mark's long overdue release and the relief it will bring to him and his family. The tragic and cruel use of him as a hostage has finally come to an end. I want to thank President Biden and his team for their tireless effort to secure Mark's release and regular engagement with us and his family along the way," said Durbin.
Frerichs is a graduate of Glenbard East High School. School officials said they are excited to learn of his release.
Frerichs' family says it could be two or three weeks before he's back in the U.S. He'll likely be transferred next to a U.S. base in Germany.