A plane carrying five Americans freed from Iranian detention landed in the eastern US state of Virginia on September 19, a day after they were swapped for the release of five Iranians held in the US and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds.
Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi, along with two other Americans who have not been publicly named arrived at Fort Belvoir’s Davison Army Airfield, after an initial stop in Qatar, for an emotional reunion with their relatives.
“We’re home,” Shargi said after embracing his daughters Hannah and Ariana and stroking his wife Bahareh’s face, CNN reported.
“I just can’t believe it. Too long. Five and a half years,” he also said.
Also on board the plane were two family members, US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and Abram Paley, deputy special envoy for Iran.
"The flight was amazing, very emotional, I can say probably haven't cried this much since I was a little kid,” Carstens said. “There was a chance to watch five different people interact, seven people in total interact in a way that was very amazing. I mean, this is the first time that they've had a chance to talk without being surveilled by the Iranian government in years.”
“I was really struck by their strength, their resilience, their hopefulness and their love for their country,” the envoy also said.
The prisoner exchange, agreed after months of Qatar-mediated talks, was made possible on September 18 after the funds that had been blocked in South Korea were transferred to banks in Doha.
The five US prisoners took off on a Qatari aircraft from Tehran, at the same time as two of the five Iranians held in the United States landed in Doha on their way to Iran. Three freed Iranians chose not to go to Iran.
Under the swap deal, the unfrozen funds will be kept in accounts in Qatar and will only be able to be used for humanitarian goods, such as medicine and food, the United States has said.
Namazi was detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges; Sharghi is a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years; and Tahbaz is a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence.
Western governments have repeatedly accused the Islamic Republic of taking dual and foreign nationals hostage for the sole purpose of using them in prisoner swaps or as a bargaining chip in international negotiations.
The five individuals in US custody whom Tehran wants handed over as part of the agreement include Mehrdad Ansari, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani and Kambiz Attar Kashani, who were charged with illegally obtaining advanced or potential dual-use technology thought to be bound for Iran that has been under tightly reimposed US sanctions since 2018. The two others are Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi and Amin Hasanzadeh, who were imprisoned for failing to register as foreign agents and stealing engineering plans on behalf of Iran, respectively.