Taliban releases 2 kidnapped American University of Afghanistan professors

Abigail Williams and Mushtaq Yusufzai and Ahmed Mengli and Saphora Smith

WASHINGTON — The Taliban has freed two Western hostages, the 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 in the hands of the Americans. 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.

Image: Australian professor Timothy Weeks pictured making a statement on camera in 2017.
Image: Australian professor Timothy Weeks pictured making a statement on camera in 2017.

"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."

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.

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Abigail Williams reported from Washington; Ahmed Mengli reported from Kabul; Mushtaq Yusufzai from Peshawar, Pakistan; and Saphora Smith from London.