A plane transporting five released prisoners and two of their relatives touched down at a Virginia military facility just outside Washington, D.C., around 5:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, according to a U.S. official.
Out of the five released prisoners, only three have been publicly identified: Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz. These individuals are dual Iranian-American citizens. Another senior Biden administration official revealed that two of the released Americans preferred to maintain their anonymity.
Namazi, a 51-year-old businessman, was arrested in 2015 while visiting his family in Tehran. Sharghi, aged 59, was detained in 2018, a year after relocating from the U.S. to Iran to work for a technology investment firm. Tahbaz, a 67-year-old environmentalist who also holds British citizenship, was arrested in 2018 while involved in a conservation project in Iran.
Namazi was the first to disembark from the aircraft at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He paused briefly, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath upon leaving the plane. Babak, Namazi’s brother, expressed relief at the airport, stating, “The nightmare is finally over.”
As they exited the plane, the former prisoners were welcomed by American flags and embraced by loved ones, who exchanged greetings in English and Farsi, Iran’s primary language. Sharghi received a stuffed animal from his sister, Neda, which she had given to their father 30 years ago following his bypass surgery, as confirmed by a family representative.
The Americans had been held in Iran’s Evin Prison, known for its chronic overcrowding, limited hot water, poor ventilation, and infestations of cockroaches and mice.
Namazi, after enduring 2,898 days of captivity, expressed his eagerness to experience the warm sun on his face, lie in the grass, and gaze at the blue sky. “For almost eight years, I have been dreaming of this day,” Namazi stated in a post-release statement. “I want to see foliage instead of walls and wardens.”
Accompanying the prisoners were the wives of Namazi and Tahbaz, both of whom had been unable to leave Iran previously. The group of Americans arrived in Virginia via Doha, Qatar, on Monday, having departed from Tehran.
As part of the negotiated deal, the Biden administration released $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil revenues, and the United States also freed five Iranians charged or convicted of non-violent crimes, according to U.S. officials. Of these five Iranians, two had been convicted of non-violent crimes, while the other three were awaiting trial and had not been convicted, as confirmed by two senior Biden administration officials.
The prisoner exchange was the result of several months of indirect negotiations between U.S. and Iranian officials. While it remains uncertain whether this exchange will significantly improve long-strained U.S.-Iran relations, it is not directly tied to the stalled nuclear talks between the two nations.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, who attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York, suggested that the exchange could be a “step in the direction of a humanitarian action between us and America” and believed it could contribute to building trust between the nations. Nonetheless, the swap has drawn criticism from congressional Republicans, who argue that it amounts to paying a ransom to terrorists, potentially posing new challenges for President Joe Biden in domestic politics and his presidential ambitions.