Two Americans who had been detained by the Taliban in Afghanistan have been released and are en route to Qatar, three sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.
Two of the sources tell CNN that one of the Americans is filmmaker Ivor Shearer, who was arrested along with his Afghan producer, Faizullah Faizbakhsh, in August this year while filming in Kabul, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was filming where a US drone had killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
CNN is withholding the name of the second American at the request of the family at this time. The status of Faizbakhsh was not immediately clear.
It was not immediately clear what spurred the release of the two Americans and if any deal was made with the Taliban to secure it. The State Department did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“The United States welcomes the release of two US nationals from detention in Afghanistan. We continue to provide all appropriate assistance. We are glad these US nationals will reunite with their families soon,” a senior administration official told CNN. “Out of respect for the privacy of these individuals and their families, we are not going to confirm names.”
The official added that the administration continues to “engage the Taliban in pragmatic ways to advance US interests” but did not provide details as to the efforts it took to secure the America’s release.
According to the CPJ, security guards questioned Shearer and Faizbakhsh about their activities “and checked their work permits, ID cards, and passports.” They also “confiscated the journalists’ cellphones, detained them for a couple of hours, and repeatedly called them ‘American spies.'”
Shearer was in Afghanistan on a one-month visa, according to CPJ, but received a one-year work permit by the Taliban’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that allowed him to stay in the country until September. He was reportedly summoned and questioned about his past work multiple times by the Taliban’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs before his arrest.
Asked about Shearer’s detention in September, a senior administration official told reporters they were “aware of that matter” but did not provide more details.
Mark Frerichs, an American held captive in Afghanistan for more than two years, was released as part of a prisoner swap in September. Frerichs was believed to be held by the Haqqani network, which is a faction of the Taliban. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time that his return was “the result of intense engagement with the Taliban.” Taliban spokesman at the time said the swap was secured through a constructive “dialogue” with the US.
In October, the US held its first in-person talks in Qatar with the Taliban since Zawahiri was killed. The White House in September called cooperation with the Taliban on counterterrorism “a work in progress.”
Earlier this month, the Taliban put an alleged murderer to death in the first public execution held in Afghanistan since the Islamist group returned to power. The Biden administration condemned the execution.
“The images we’ve seen out of Afghanistan; the floggings, the public executions; the clear, blatant, violent, barbaric violations of human rights of course are of grave concern to all of us. They harken back to a prior era, to an era that no Afghan or Afghans certainly as a whole do not want to return to, an Afghanistan that lacked opportunity, that lacked stability, that lacked security, that certainly lacked prosperity,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “In every engagement we have with the Taliban, human rights is at the top of the agenda.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.