The Taliban released five British citizens after six months of captivity, ending a dispute with the U.K. government that had complicated the group’s effort to obtain international legitimacy.
The five men were detained separately in December and hadn’t been formally accused of any crime. They include
a former journalist and businessman who had worked in Afghanistan for decades before his arrest. The others had mostly worked in the security sector. They left the country Monday.
The Taliban’s chief spokesman,
said the five British citizens had been detained “for activities that are against traditions and laws” and that they were released after pledging to respect Afghan rules and culture. “Afghanistan is a safe place for everyone,” said Mr. Mujahid. “Anyone can visit Afghanistan for the purpose of humanitarian activities and tourism.”
The U.K. Foreign Office, which led negotiations with the Taliban government, welcomed the release of the five men.
Since the Taliban took control of the country in August and the Western-backed republic fell, they have sought to establish cordial relations with the rest of the world, including with the U.S., the U.K. and their European allies. But 10 months since the Taliban’s victory, no country has yet recognized their government as legitimate. Obstacles include the group’s treatment of women, above all the prolonged closure of secondary schools for girls. The detention of Western citizens has also been a major cause of friction.
During lengthy negotiations with the Taliban, the British government made it clear that until its citizens were freed it wouldn’t engage with the group on issues other than to help alleviate Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.
“The Foreign Office really worked tirelessly” for Mr. Jouvenal’s release, said
a friend and former BBC colleague. “His family and his friends are really grateful for the work they have done.”
The release of Mr. Jouvenal and of the other four prisoners came a day after the British government issued a statement criticizing violent political opposition to the Taliban regime and pledging that “it will not allow U.K. soil to be used to plan or prepare it.” The statement added that “there is no alternative to engaging pragmatically with the current administration of Afghanistan, and that is what we are doing.”
After the Taliban takeover, senior officials from the fallen republic have scattered in countries around the world, including the U.K. Fighters linked to some members of the fallen republic have taken up arms against the Taliban government. A group known as the National Resistance Front has been battling the Taliban for months, mostly in the Valley of Panjshir, a historical bastion of anti-Taliban resistance.
The five British citizens aren’t the only Westerners who have been detained in Afghanistan. Among them were an American citizen,
and his brother
a U.K. citizen and U.S. permanent resident. The two brothers were released three months ago. They had been working to evacuate thousands of at-risk Afghans and foreigners from the country.
remains detained in Afghanistan. Mr. Frerichs, a civil engineer working on development projects, was kidnapped in January 2020. In a video dated November 2021, Mr. Frerichs appealed to the Taliban leadership for his release.
Write to Margherita Stancati at [email protected]