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Taliban release 2 Americans arrested in Afghanistan

Taliban release 2 Americans arrested in Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON — The Taliban have released two Americans arrested in Afghanistan on Tuesday, including Ivor Shearer, an independent filmmaker who has been held since August, according to a person with knowledge of the release.

The Biden administration did not confirm the names of the two Americans, but a government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive process, said both had been safely taken to Qatar and were on their way with their families to be reunited.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the release was not part of a prisoner swap and no money was paid to release the Americans. He said it appeared to be a “goodwill gesture” on the part of the Taliban.

Mr Shearer was arrested along with his Afghan producer Faizullah Faizbakhsh in the summer when they were filming near the scene of a drone strike that had killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawari, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a media watchdog. The group said they had no information on whether Mr Faizbakhsh was still being held.

The Americans’ release was first reported by CNN and came as the Taliban suspended university education for women. The release came almost two weeks after government officials announced that Brittney Griner, an American basketball player, had been released after months in Russian custody. Ms Griner’s release was part of a prisoner swap in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer.

In September, an American engineer, Mark R. Frerichs, was released from Afghanistan on condition that the United States release Haji Bashir Noorzai, a prominent Afghan tribal leader convicted of drug trafficking.

Officials in the Biden administration have spoken openly about how much — and how unexpectedly — the problem of Americans detained abroad has taken up their time and resources. While only four countries unjustly held Americans captive from 2001 to 2005, at least 19 countries now do so, according to research by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, the advocacy group founded by Diane Foley and named for her son, who was killed by terrorists In the middle east.

What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What is your motivation for telling us this? Have they proven reliable in the past? Can we confirm the information? Even with those questions answered, The Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source.

“I didn’t fully expect the importance that this responsibility would have in my job, but it was very significant,” Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told the New York Times this week. Recently, Roger Carstens, the Biden administration’s chief negotiator, spoke publicly about what it was like to bring Ms Griner home – she spent much of the 18-hour flight home chatting with him.

“It is appalling to leave an American unjustly locked up in a foreign jail cell,” Mr Carstens said in an interview with CNN’s State of the Union last week.

The Biden administration is also working on the release of Paul Whelan, another American jailed in Russia. Activists saw Mr Shearer’s arrest as a chilling sign of the Taliban’s approach to the news media after the group seized power in Afghanistan last year. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mr Shearer and Mr Faizbakhsh were stopped by Taliban intelligence officials in August and detained blindfolded.

“The mounting pressure from the Taliban and the escalating number of arrests of journalists and media workers, including the arrest of American filmmaker Ivor Shearer and his Afghan colleague Faizullah Faizbakhsh, demonstrate the group’s total lack of commitment to the principle of press freedom in Afghanistan.” Carlos Martinez de la Serna, the group’s program director, said in a statement at the time.

While overseeing the chaotic and violent withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan last year, Biden said American officials had relied on Taliban pledges to allow people to leave the country. The Taliban have agreed to release several detained Americans this year, but remain at odds with the United States over access to humanitarian aid and the confiscation of central bank funds after the Taliban takeover.

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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