5 British Men Released by Taliban as U.K. Expresses Regret

David Zucchino and 

The New York Times

Britain apologized for “any breach of Afghan culture, customs or laws” by the detainees and said their travel to Afghanistan was “a mistake.”

The Afghan government has released five British citizens from custody, British officials said Monday in a statement that included an apology on behalf of the men and an expression of regret from the U.K. government.

The Britons had been caught up in a crackdown on foreigners and Afghan civil society activists by the Taliban after they seized power in August. The British government did not comment Monday on the circumstances of the men’s release or why they had been imprisoned, but a Taliban spokesman said they had violated Afghan laws and traditions.

The release coincided with a statement of contrition issued by Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“On behalf of the families of the British nationals, we express their apologies for any breach of Afghan culture, customs or laws, and of their assurance of future good conduct,” the statement said.

The statement said Britain welcomed the release.

“These British nationals had no role in the U.K. government’s work in Afghanistan and traveled to Afghanistan against the U.K. government’s travel advice,” it said. “This was a mistake.”

The statement concluded, “The U.K. government regrets this episode.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban government spokesman, said on Twitter Monday that the detained Britons had been “carrying out activities against the country’s laws and traditions of the people of Afghanistan.”

Mr. Mujahid said the Britons “left for their country” on Sunday following “successive meetings” between the British and Afghan governments after about six months in custody.

“These people promised that from now on they will not do anything against the laws of Afghanistan and will act in accordance with the principles and traditions of the Afghan people,” Mr. Mujahid said. He did not provide the names of the Britons or specify how many had been released.

The men were detained during the chaotic weeks following the American exit from Afghanistan, when thousands of Afghans were trying to flee the country and the Taliban were struggling to maintain order.

The British statement did not identify the men, but the family of Peter Jouvenal, a former journalist and businessman who is Muslim and is married to an Afghan, said he was among those released. The statement said he had endured “a long ordeal” while imprisoned for more than six months.

“We are grateful to the thousands of people who have supported the campaign to release him,” the statement said. “We thank the team in the U.K. Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office who have worked tirelessly to secure his release.”

The statement was released by David Loyn, a longtime friend of Mr. Jouvenal’s and a spokesman for his family. Mr. Loyn said Monday he was awaiting confirmation that the Mr. Jouvenal and the others were out of Afghanistan.

Mr. Jouvenal was a longtime resident of Afghanistan who for years operated a guesthouse in Kabul frequented by international journalists, diplomats and aid workers.

In a statement in February, Mr. Jouvenal’s family and friends said he had been discussing investments in Afghanistan’s mining industry and conducting family matters. The statement said he had been operating openly and was in frequent contact with senior Taliban officials.

The British government said in February that several British citizens had been detained and that it had raised the issue with the Taliban.

That announcement came a day after the United Nations said that Andrew North, a former BBC journalist working in Afghanistan for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, had been released after being held by the Taliban for several days. A Westerner and two Afghans also working for the U.N. were released along with Mr. North.

A Taliban spokesman said Feb. 11 that the four had been detained because they did not have “the correct identification and permits” and that they had been released after their identities were verified.

The United States has said the Taliban continues to hold an American citizen, Mark R. Frerichs, a United States Navy veteran and civil engineer who was working as a contractor in Afghanistan when he was kidnapped by the Haqqani Network of the Taliban in January 2020.

“He has done nothing wrong,” President Biden said in a statement in January on the anniversary of Mr. Frerichs’s abduction. “And yet for two years the Taliban has held him captive.”

Safiullah Padshah contributed reporting from Kabul.

5 British Men Released by Taliban as U.K. Expresses Regret