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Emotional scenes as five freed prisoners land in US

Five people released from Iran in a controversial prisoner swap deal with the US have touched down on American soil.

The prisoners were freed after President Joe Biden agreed to the release of almost $6bn (£4.84bn) in frozen Iranian assets.

Conservationist Morad Tahbaz – who has British, US and Iranian citizenship – was released alongside four other US-Iranian dual nationals including businessmen Siamak Namazi and Emad Sharghi.

Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi arriving at Davison Army Airfield on Tuesday Pic: AP
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Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharghi land on US soil. Pic: AP

They tearfully hugged loved ones during an emotional reunion at an army airfield at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

The former prisoners also posed for a photograph with their families, calling out “freedom!”

Their arrival, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, prompted applause and cheers from people on the ground.

Mr Namazi, the first to leave the jet, paused for a moment, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.

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Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi smile as US officials arrange a group photo of the former prisoners Pic: AP
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Morad Tahbaz (L) and Emad Sharghi smile after arriving in the US. Pic: AP

‘The nightmare is finally over’

Close friends and family, some holding small American flags, embraced them and exchanged greetings in both English and Farsi, the main language spoken in Iran.

Mr Namazi’s brother Babak, who was joined at the airport by his father Baquer, a former detainee in Iran, said: “The nightmare is finally over.

“We haven’t had this moment in over eight years,” he added. “It’s unbelievable.”

Mr Namazi hugging a relative Pic: AP
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Mr Namazi hugs a relative Pic: AP

Mr Shargi shares an embrace with a family member Pic: AP
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Mr Sharghi shares an embrace with a family member Pic: AP

Mr Sharghi’s sister Neda presented him with a US flag and a toy stuffed animal she gave to their father 30 years ago when he had bypass surgery, a family representative said.

They were all jailed on spying charges at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held.

Freed American Emad Shargi gives a thumbs-up after he and four fellow detainees were released in a prisoner swap deal between U.S and Iran, and arrived at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, U.S., September 19, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
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Mr Sharghi gives a thumbs-up as the jet arrives at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia

The identity of the fourth and fifth prisoners has not yet been made public.

In a statement released as the plane carrying the group landed in Doha, Qatar, on Monday, Mr Biden said: “Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home.”

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Iran: Freed prisoners land in doha

The deal also includes the release of five Iranian citizens held in the US – which the White House insists poses no threat to US national security.

Two of the Iranian prisoners will remain in the US, according to Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani.

Two other detainees were in Doha for the swap, according to reports.

One has been identified as Mehrdad Ansari who was sentenced to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military gear.

The second is Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani who was charged in 2021 over alleged unlawful exportation of lab equipment to Iran.

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The successful negotiations has earned Mr Biden the gratitude of the prisoners’ families.

However, the deal has sparked political controversy with Republican rivals and other opponents over the financial arrangement with one of America’s top adversaries.

Critics say the deal is helping to boost Iran’s economy – despite it posing a growing threat to American troops and its Mideast allies – and could have a negative impact on his re-election campaign.

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