Taliban releases an 84-year-old Austrian man who was detained in Afghanistan last year

Herbert Fritz, a veteran far-right extremist and co-founder of a minor far-right party, was arrested last year accused of spying


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Published: Sun 25 Feb 2024, 9:56 PM

An 84-year-old Austrian man who travelled to Afghanistan last year and was arrested there was released by the country's Taliban rulers, the Austrian government said on Sunday.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry in a statement identified the man as Herbert Fritz and said he arrived in Doha, Qatar from Afghanistan on Sunday afternoon. If necessary, he will be given medical treatment before continuing on to Austria, it said.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer thanked the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and his team for their “strong support in releasing one of our citizens from prison in Afghanistan".

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“It is only due to our trusted collaboration that this Austrian citizen will be able to return home to his daughter and grandchildren,” Nehammer said.

Qatar's Foreign Affairs ministry released a statement on X expressing gratitude to the “caretaker government in Afghanistan” for releasing the Austrian.

“The State of Qatar has proven, regionally and globally, that it is a trusted international partner in various important issues, and it spares no effort in harnessing its energy and ability in the areas of mediation, preventive diplomacy, and settling disputes through peaceful means ... ," it said.

Austrian newspaper Der Standard reported last year that an Austrian man had been arrested in Afghanistan and that he was a veteran far-right extremist and co-founder of a minor far-right party that was banned in 1988, the National Democratic Party.

It said he had been in custody for a few weeks, since shortly after a far-right magazine published an article he wrote titled “Vacation with the Taliban” in which he gave a positive view of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. According to the report, he was accused of spying and Austrian neo-Nazis made his case public via Telegram channels.

The Taliban have barred women from most areas of public life and stopped girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade as part of harsh measures they imposed after taking control of the country in 2021, despite initially promising more moderate rule. The Taliban seized Afghanistan as US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.

According to Der Standard, the Austrian has been a keen traveller to dangerous locations, visiting Afghanistan in the 1980s and, a few years ago, visiting Kurds fighting against the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

Austrian officials said Fritz arrived in Afghanistan last May but did not say where in the country he was detained.

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