Five Americans freed in Iran prisoner swap return to US | Albiseyler

Five Americans freed in Iran prisoner swap return to US

Five Americans who were released after being wrongfully imprisoned in Iran for years made an emotional return to American soil on Tuesday.

The plane carrying five Americans and two of their relatives landed at 5:25 a.m. ET at a military airport near Washington, DC. They flew in from the Gulf state of Qatar, which helped facilitate the move.

The group was released as part of a prisoner swap deal that allowed Tehran to access $6 billion in oil revenue frozen under US sanctions, and also saw the release of five Iranian nationals from US custody.

The rare, high-stakes deal comes despite heightened tensions between the two countries over a range of issues, including Iran’s uranium enrichment program and the crackdown on internal dissent – the weekend marked a year when the death of Mahsa Amini sparked a wave of domestic unrest.

NBC News first reported on the prisoner swap talks in February.

There were emotional scenes on the tarmac as the freed Americans left the plane to meet family and friends, with many waving small US flags as they hugged each other in tears.

The former prisoners then posed together with their families and shouted: “Freedom!”

“We’ve all been looking forward to this day,” said Roger Carstens, the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs. He said the group would “continue to fight” and help bring back other detained Americans.

Siamak Namazi, 51, was imprisoned for almost eight years, the longest stretch of the five American prisoners. In 2015, he was arrested on espionage charges and convicted in a trial that lasted several hours.

Siamak Namazi hugs his family at Dulles International Airport on September 19, 2023.Jonathan Ernst / AFP – Getty Images

Emad Shargi, 59, an Iranian-born businessman who moved to the U.S. as a youth, was arrested in 2018. Although he was released and cleared of all charges in 2019, Iranian authorities kept his passport until he was indicted again in 2020. convicted of espionage without trial.

A third ex-prisoner, Morad Tahbaz, 67, is an Iranian-American who also holds British citizenship. As part of a group of environmental activists conducting research on the endangered cheetah population in Iran, he was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage in 2019.

The families of two other former prisoners have asked that their identities remain private, U.S. officials said.

Two unnamed family members were also on the run from Qatar.

Human rights groups accuse Iran of accusing the prisoners of espionage without any justification – but Iran says they were treated according to the law.

The agreement comes as President Joe Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi were scheduled to attend the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.

Biden has come under fire from Republicans for agreeing to a deal they say amounts to a “ransom” payment that will likely only encourage Tehran to imprison more foreigners.

The administration insisted that Iran would only be allowed to use funds unblocked by the U.S. for purchases of medicine, food or other humanitarian purchases.

But Raisi told NBC News’ Lester Holt in an exclusive interview that Tehran will decide how to spend the $6 billion. The money will be spent “wherever we need it,” he said.

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