Iran-US prisoner swap: Five American prisoners have arrived in Qatar

Five American prisoners, who were part of a prisoner swap between the US and Iran, have arrived in Qatar, after flying out of Tehran on Monday afternoon.

The prisoner swap is part of a deal that also saw almost $6 billion in Iranian assets unfrozen.

Flight-tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press showed a Qatar Airways flight take off from Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport, which has been used for exchanges in the past. Iranian state media soon after said the flight had left Tehran.

CNN in turn broadcast the arrival of the five Americans in Doha. The prisoners were met by Qatari officials before being escorted into the airport building.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement late Monday confirming that Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and two other American citizens who wished to remain private “have departed Iran and are on their way back to the United States to be reunited with their families.

“They are joined by two of their relatives, also US citizens, who had been prevented from leaving Iran until today (Monday),” Blinken said, adding that several of the freed prisoners have spent years in jail “as part of the Iranian regime’s cruel practice of wrongful detention, but today they are all returning home to their loved ones.”

Blinken meanwhile thanked Qatar for its role in securing the release of the prisoners. He expressed Washington’s “deep appreciation for the indispensable role played by the State of Qatar over the last two years in mediating this arrangement. I extend our sincere thanks to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and senior Qatari officials for their steadfast involvement and assistance in securing the release of US citizens and establishing the Humanitarian Channel in Qatar for Iran to purchase humanitarian goods like food, medicine, medical devices, and agricultural products.”

In conclusion, Blinken said: “Finally, I want to reiterate the State Department’s clear warning to US citizens: do not travel to Iran. While this group of US citizens has been released, there is no way to guarantee a similar result for other Americans who decide to travel to Iran despite the US government’s long standing warning against doing so.”

He also called on any US citizens in Iran to leave the country immediately.

The prisoners freed Monday includes Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges; Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years; and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence. All of their charges have been widely criticized by their families, activists and the U.S. government.

The identities of the fourth and fifth prisoners have not been revealed.

The five prisoners Iran has said it seeks are mostly held over allegedly trying to export banned material to Iran, such as dual use electronics that can be used by a military.

The cash represents money South Korea owed Iran — but had not yet paid — for oil purchased before the U.S. imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019.

Iran and the U.S. have a history of prisoner swaps dating back to the 1979 US Embassy takeover and hostage crisis following the Islamic Revolution. Their most recent major exchange happened in 2016, when Iran came to a deal with world powers to restrict its nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions, AP reported.

Four American captives, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, flew home from Iran at the time, and several Iranians in the US won their freedom. That same day, then-President Barack Obama’s administration airlifted $400 million in cash to Tehran.

The West accuses Iran of using foreign prisoners — including those with dual nationality — as bargaining chips, an allegation Tehran rejects.