Officials: 5 Americans held in Iran released; arrive in the U.S.

Five Americans who were detained in Iran for years arrived back on U.S. soil early Tuesday following a deal in which the U.S. agreed to release nearly $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets, according to The Associated Press.

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Americans held in Iran reach the US

5:48 a.m. EDT Sept. 19: The five U.S. citizens held captive for years in Iran have made their way back to the United States.

The plane carrying Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi, and two citizens who wish to remain private landed in the Washington, D.C. area early Tuesday morning.

The freed Americans will have the option to participate in a Department of Defense Program known as PISA (Post Isolation Support Activities) to help them acclimate back to normal life now that they are back in the United States, CNN reported.

Blinken vows to work for release of others

11:30 a.m. EDT Sept. 18: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a news conference Monday that while it was a day to celebrate the release of the five Americans, he would not stop trying to secure the release of others being held unjustly in other parts of the world.

“From day one of this administration, the president and I have made clear that we have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens at home and abroad. Under President Biden’s leadership, we have now secured the release of more than 30 wrongfully detained Americans around the world,” he said.

“I am grateful to everyone from the State Department and across the government who worked tirelessly to bring home our U.S. citizens. We will not rest until we have brought home every wrongfully detained American.

“For today, for this moment, it’s very good to be able to say our fellow citizens are free. In this moment, at least, I have something very joyous to report.”

Biden: ‘We also remember those who did not return’

10:39 a.m. EDT Sept. 18: President Joe Biden issued a statement Monday as the five Americans released from Iran landed in Qatar.

“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” Biden said. “Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi, and two citizens who wish to remain private will soon be reunited with their loved ones—after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering.

“I am grateful to our partners at home and abroad for their tireless efforts to help us achieve this outcome.

“As we celebrate the return of these Americans, we also remember those who did not return. I call on the Iranian regime to give a full account of what happened to Bob Levinson. The Levinson family deserves answers.”

Biden also announced that the U.S. plans to sanction former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and warned Americans to stay away from Iran.

“Today, we are sanctioning former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence under the Levinson Act for their involvement in wrongful detentions. And, we will continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region,” the president said.

“And as we welcome home our fellow citizens, I once more remind all Americans of the serious risks of traveling to Iran. American passport holders should not travel there. The U.S. State Department has a longstanding travel warning that states: ‘Do not travel to Iran due to the risk of kidnapping and the arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens.’ All Americans should heed those words and have no expectation that their release can be secured if they do not.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also commented about the release of the five.

Plane carrying Americans has left Iran

8:53 a.m. EDT Sept. 18: According to flight tracker data, the plane carrying the five Americans who are part of the prisoner swap has left Tehran, the AP is reporting.

According to the AP, flight-tracking data showed a Qatar Airways flight took off at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport. The airport has been used in the past for prisoner exchanges.

The BBC is reporting that Iranian state media said the flight had left Tehran. According to U.S. officials, two family members were also onboard the flight.

Original report: The detained U.S. citizens expected to be released Monday include Siamak Namazi, 51, Emad Shargi, 59, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, plus two others, a man and a woman, who asked that their identities not be made public.

A source told Reuters that “A Qatari aircraft is on standby in Iran waiting to fly five soon-to-be-released U.S. citizens and two relatives to Doha on Monday morning.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said Sunday during a news conference that the swap would take place Monday and includes releasing five Iranians imprisoned in the U.S. for the five Americans imprisoned in Iran.

The $6 billion is coming from a restricted account in South Korea, where it was frozen when the U.S. reinstated sanctions against Tehran after former President Donald Trump left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program.

The money came from selling oil to South Korea. According to Kanaai, the funds have been transferred to Qatar.

Qatar agreed to monitor how Iran spends the unfrozen assets so that the cash is spent on humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine, and not any items under U.S. sanctions, the U.S. State Department has said.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told NBC News that the funds that form part of this deal should be returned as the money is rightfully Iranian.

Raisi said the money was “...unjustly frozen by the United States... we believe this American action was very unjust from the beginning”.

He also said the money will be used as the Iranians see fit.

“This money belongs to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. “Naturally, we will decide to spend it wherever we need it. Humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people need. This will be decided and determined by the Iranian government.”

The transfer of Iran’s funds has drawn criticism from Republicans who charged that President Joe Biden is paying a ransom for U.S. citizens in addition to helping boost the Iranian economy.

The White House has defended the deal, Reuters reported.

“This isn’t a payment of any kind. These aren’t U.S. dollars. They aren’t taxpayer dollars, they are Iranian dollars the previous Administration allowed them to make,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

The detainees are scheduled to leave Iran early Eastern Time on Monday morning. The five Americans detained in Iran’s notorious Evin prison were told many times before they would soon be freed, the BBC reported.

The Iranian Foreign ministry spokesperson said two of the five Iranians who were held in the U.S. would return to Iran, while two would stay in the U.S. at their request. The fifth detainee will join his family in a third country, he added.

Check back for more on this developing story.

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