US hostage’s sister fights for release

A map of Afghanistan has invaded the wall of his dining room.

Charlene Cakora yearns for the day when she can follow the map and find a path to her brother, Mark Frerichs, and his freedom.

“Every day is about bringing Mark home,” she said.

But with each passing day, Cakora and her family in Lombard find themselves with the same questions, the same assumptions. The pain of not knowing is constant.

She said she had to find the courage to do TV interviews, to remind people that there is still an American being held hostage in Afghanistan.

Frerichs, a 59-year-old navy veteran and civil engineering contractor, was abducted in the Afghan capital of Kabul two years ago on Monday.

US hostage Mark Frerichs is believed to have been held in the mountainous region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
– Courtesy of Charlene Cakora

His captors likely used the pretense of a new engineering project to lure Frerichs to a meeting in Kabul, brought him to a known Taliban safehouse along the Pakistani border, and then transferred him to the custody of the Haqqani network.

The insurgent group is closely linked to the Taliban. The leader of the Haqqani network is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also deputy leader of the Taliban.

According to the National Counterterrorism Center, Haqqani militants are responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in the Afghan war and kidnappings for ransom. The group was designated by the US government as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2012.

“The worst part is worrying if Mark has enough to eat, if he’s healthy and safe in the midst of a pandemic, if he has warm clothes,” Cakora told the Daily Herald. . “We wish we could talk to him, but the Taliban don’t want anything from us. They want something from the US government, and we need our government to act on it.”

The Taliban want Bashir Noorzai in exchange for Frerichs’ release. A convicted drug lord, Noorzai was arrested in 2005 for heroin trafficking and sentenced to life in prison in the United States four years later. As early as 1990, Noorzai had a network of distributors in New York selling his heroin, federal prosecutors said at the time.

“We understand that the Taliban have been clear about what they want, repeatedly telling the US government and the media the same response each time they were asked how Mark can get home,” Cakora said in a statement marking two years since his brother’s abduction. “He’s only being held hostage because senior officials haven’t presented President Biden with a decision to act.”

The family asked to speak to Joe Biden twice, to no avail, Cakora said. And while White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to other hostage families, Cakora said, “We haven’t been cleared to speak to him yet.”

The family recently spoke with Roger Carstens, the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department.

“We know he’s trying to bring Mark home, but that’s a decision that has to be made at the top,” she said. “They want to trade Mark for one of their guys who’s been in jail in the United States for 17 years.”

Mark Frerichs, an entrepreneur from Illinois, poses in Iraq in this undated photo obtained from Twitter that he would include on his resume when looking for a job.  Frerichs was abducted in Afghanistan on January 31, 2020.

Mark Frerichs, an entrepreneur from Illinois, poses in Iraq in this undated photo obtained from Twitter that he would include on his resume when looking for a job. Frerichs was abducted in Afghanistan on January 31, 2020.
-Twitter via AP

Cakora said American senses Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth provided “great support”. Both reached out to former President Donald Trump and then Biden and pressed other government leaders “to make Mark a priority,” she said.

“We must continue to press all reasonable levers to ensure Mark’s safe and urgent release,” Durbin said in a statement Friday. “I will continue to work with the administration to ensure that we can bring Mark home to his loved ones.”

Frerichs was taken hostage a month before the United States signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020. Durbin and Duckworth denounced the Trump administration’s decision to “renounce efforts to negotiate the release and safe return of Mr. Frerichs” when officials brokered the deal with the Taliban.

With the withdrawal of the last US troops from Afghanistan, family and home state lawmakers feared US negotiators would lose another point of leverage.

“If we can work with a new Afghan government in a way that helps secure those interests — including the safe return of Mark Frerichs, a U.S. citizen held hostage in the region since early last year — and in a way that brings greater stability to the country and the region and protects the gains of the past two decades, we will,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in August. not on the basis of trust or faith.”

In late November, a US delegation raised Frerichs’ case with senior Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar, according to the State Department.

“The safe and immediate release of U.S. citizen and Navy veteran Mark Frerichs is imperative,” a department spokesperson said Friday. “We have made this clear to the Taliban. As the Taliban seeks legitimacy, they cannot continue to hold an American citizen hostage. The Taliban must immediately release Mark Frerichs.”

Cakora said, “The Taliban didn’t kidnap Mark because of Mark.”

“They did it because he’s American,” she said. “That’s why we need President Biden to bring Mark home to us.”

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