5 American prisoners released in prison swap with Iran have safely returned to US

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Five Americans imprisoned in Iran are back on U.S. soil after they were released as part of a prisoner exchange the Biden administration negotiated with Tehran.

A plane carrying the five prisoners and two of their family members landed around 5:30 am ET Tuesday at a Virginia military facility, just outside of Washington, a U.S. official said.

Only three of the five prisoners who were freed have been identified: Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz. All three are dual-Iranian citizens. A senior Biden administration official said those two Americans wish to keep their identities private.

Americans freed from Iran: Here are their stories

Businessman Namazi, 51, was arrested in 2015 while visiting his family in Tehran. Sharghi, 59, was detained in 2018 a year after moving to Iran from the U.S. to work for a tech investment company. Environmentalist Tahbaz, 67, who also holds British citizenship, was arrested in 2018 while working on a conservation project in Iran.

Namazi was the first off the jet at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

He paused for a moment, closed his eyes and took a deep breath before leaving the plane.

"The nightmare is finally over," Namazi’s brother, Babak, said at the airport.

As the former prisoners exited the plane they were greeted by American flags and loved ones who gave them hugs and exchanged greetings in English and Farsi, Iran's main language. Sharghi received from his sister, Neda, a stuffed animal that she had given to their father 30 years ago when he had bypass surgery, a family representative said.

The Americans were held in Iran's Evin Prison, known for chronic overcrowding, severely limited hot water, poor ventilation, and infestations of cockroaches and mice.

After 2,898 days of captivity, Namazi said he was was desperate to feel the warm sun on his face, lay back in the grass, and look up at the blue sky.

“For almost eight years I have been dreaming of this day,” Namazi said in a statement after he and four other Americans were freed Monday. “I want to see foliage instead of walls and wardens.”

Also arriving with the prisoners are Namazi’s and Tahbaz's wife, both of whom were previously unable to leave Iran. The group of Americans arrived from Doha, Qatar, where they arrived Monday after leaving Tehran.

More: Iran releases five Americans in prisoner swap deal negotiated by Joe Biden

U.S. citizens Siamak Namazi (R-back), Emad Sharqi (L) and Morad Tahbaz (C) disembark from a Qatari jet upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Doha on Sept. 18, 2023. Five US detainees, three previously identified as Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharqi and two who wish to remain anonymous, released by Iran landed in Doha in a prisoner swap on Sept. 18 after $6 billion in frozen funds were transferred to Iranian accounts in Qatar.

As part of the deal, $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil revenues was released by the Biden administration and five Iranians charged or convicted of non-violent crimes were freed by the United States, according to U.S. officials.

Iran releases five Americans: In the backdrop, nuclear tensions

Two of the five Iranians who were freed had been convicted of non-violent crimes while three others were awaiting trial and had not been convicted, two senior Biden administration officials said.

The exchange came together after months of indirect negotiations between U.S. and Iranian officials. It's not clear whether the swap will ultimately ease long-fraught U.S.-Iran relations. It's not, for example, formally linked to stalled nuclear talks between the foes.

Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, on hand for the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, suggested the exchange could be "a step in the direction of a humanitarian action between us and America."

"It can definitely help in building trust," Raisi told journalists.

However, the swap also appears to put President Joe Biden at further odds with congressional Republicans, who have criticized the exchange and said it amounts to paying a ransom to terrorists. It provides new fodder for his presidential rivals.

Americans are coming home: So, why is the prisoner swap with Iran controversial for Biden?

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 5 American prisoners released from Iran have safely returned to US