Australian teacher Timothy Weeks, held captive by the for three years after being abducted at gunpoint in Kabul, has returned home to Australia.
Weeks, 50, flew into Sydney about 10pm Thursday night, bypassing the public arrivals hall and escorted from the airport by officials. Having been freed in a complex prisoner swap for captured Taliban insurgents, Weeks has spent several days at a US military base in Germany undergoing medical checks.
Originally from Wagga Wagga, it’s not clear when he will return home.
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Weeks was released on 20 November along with 63-year-old American Kevin King, from Pennsylvania, in a prisoner swap negotiated between the Taliban, and the US, Australian and Afghan governments.
In exchange for the two westerners’ release, three high-profile Taliban prisoners were freed, including Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the militant group’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also head of the hardline Haqqani network.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said the decision to agree to the swap was a hard choice but one he felt compelled to make in the interest of the Afghan people. Even once negotiated, the deal was problematic, with a number of false starts, and last-minute postponements, before it finally went ahead, with the Taliban prisoners flown to Qatar.
Weeks and King were abducted at gunpoint from a car in August 2016 outside the American University in Kabul where they both worked as English teachers.
US Navy Seals conducted a raid to free them days later, descending on a militant hideout in the mountains of eastern , but the men had been moved hours earlier, according to reports.
The pair appeared looking gaunt and weathered begging their parents to ask the US government to negotiate for their release.
They appeared in a second video later that year, setting a June 2017 deadline for their release, in which Weeks pleaded with the then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to negotiate for his release.
Both men said they were being treated well by the Taliban but that they would remain prisoners unless their governments could negotiate their freedom. It is unknown whether the men had been forced to speak.
Weeks and King were handed over to US forces in Afghanistan’s southern Zabul province on 20 November, and transported from the area by helicopter.
The Weeks family released a statement thanking the Australian, US and Afghan governments for their role in securing his release, and asking for privacy.
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“Our family is overjoyed that Tim has been released after more than three years in captivity,” the statement said. “We thank our friends and extended family for their love and support over the past three years during this very difficult time.
“While we understand the intense public interest in Tim’s release, we do not want to comment further. We ask that the media respect both our and Tim’s privacy. It is important that Tim now be given the time and space to start to come to terms with his experience.”
Prime minister Scott Morrison called US President Donald Trump to thank him for US efforts to free them. Morrison said he was “profoundly pleased and relieved” Weeks was free.
Foreign minister Marise Payne said Weeks and his family were relieved.
“I am very pleased to confirm that Tim has returned to Australia and very much welcome his return,” she said.
on Thursday, meeting with president Ghani and saying he had restarted peace talks with the Taliban.