WASHINGTON — The Taliban has freed two Western hostages, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, after holding them in captivity for more than three years, an American official and the prime minister of neighboring Pakistan said Tuesday.
A U.S. official with knowledge of the release said the American University of Kabul professors, who were kidnapped at gunpoint in August 2016, were now in U.S. hands. Their health was being evaluated and the two were being debriefed, added the official who was not authorized to speak to the media on the subject.
“We appreciate steps taken by all involved to make it possible,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said via Twitter. “As part of the international community working to bring peace and end the suffering of the Afghan people, Pakistan has fully supported and facilitated this release as part of its policy of supporting initiatives for a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan conflict.”
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Taliban sources said the two hostages had been handed over in Zabul province, on the border with Pakistan.
On Nov. 12, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a deal to release the two hostages in exchange for three Taliban members.
According to the Taliban, Anas Haqqani, Haji Maali Khan and Hafiz Rasheed Ahamd Omari have also been released.
The release of the two comes weeks after President Donald Trump pulled the plug on a potential deal with the Taliban to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from the country and end America’s longest war. Negotiations broke down on Sept. 7 and it remains unclear if and when they will start again.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also confirmed the professors’ release.
“Tim’s family has asked for privacy. They have asked the Australian Government to convey their relief that their long ordeal is over, and their gratitude to all those who have contributed to Tim’s safe return,” he added on Twitter.
The American University of Afghanistan welcomed the news.
“The AUAF community shares the relief of the families of Kevin and Timothy, and we look forward to providing all the support we can to Kevin and Tim and their families,” the statement said.
Abigail Williams reported from Washington; Ahmed Mengli reported from Kabul; Mushtaq Yusufzai from Peshawar, Pakistan; and Saphora Smith from London.