Iran prisoner swap: 5 freed Americans on way back to U.S.

Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi and two others left Iran on Monday.

Five Americans who spent years imprisoned in Iran were freed on Monday as part of a complex and delicate diplomatic deal that saw five imprisoned Iranians released from the United States.

Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi, as well as two others who were not identified, were flown out of Tehran to Qatar, and are now flying back to Washington, D.C., on a U.S. government plane.

As part of the deal, the Biden administration unfroze nearly $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue that had been held in South Korea since 2018.

Also read: What we know about the U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said that two of the Iranian prisoners held in the United States plan to stay in the U.S., two plan to return to Iran and one would go to a different country where family lived.

"Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home," President Biden said in a statement, adding: "As we celebrate the return of these Americans, we also remember those who did not return."

Our live coverage has ended for the day. Visit Yahoo News for the latest on the swap, and check out the blog below for a recap of how it unfolded.

Live coverage is over
  • Christopher Wilson

    How the prisoner swap unfolded

    • Five Americans being held in Iran were released Monday as part of a prisoner swap, U.S. officials said.

    • All five were en route to the United States following an initial stop in Doha, Qatar, multiple news outlets reported Monday afternoon.

    • Five Iranian citizens being held in the U.S. were also released in the exchange.

    • As part of the deal, the U.S. unfroze $6 billion of Iran's oil revenue that had been held in South Korea since 2018.

    • Following the prisoner exchange, the Biden administration announced new sanctions against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's former president.

    • The swap was months in the making; Reuters reported that at least eight rounds of negotiations had been held in Qatar dating back to March 2022.

  • Dylan Stableford

    U.S. says it will monitor $6B unfrozen in Iran swap — but experts are skeptical

    Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi — former prisoners in Iran — walk off a plane in Doha, Qatar, Monday. (Lujain Jo/AP)

    The Biden administration is defending its return of $6 billion in Iranian funds as part of Monday's prisoner swap that freed five American citizens, saying it would be able to monitor what Tehran does with the money amid criticism that it will be used to promote terrorism and not humanitarian interests.

    Experts, however, are warned that there is little that the United States can do to keep track of the unfrozen assets.

    "They will likely be able to see where it goes to start, but further downstream it will get murky," Mick Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, told the BBC.

    "It's impossible to measure where the term 'humanitarian' ends and something malign or sinister starts in terms of transactions,"Alex Vatanka, the director of Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Institute, told the news outlet.

    And U.S. officials have admitted it is not America's money to monitor.

    "It is Iran's money," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters last week. "There are people who claim that we are giving them money, and we cannot give something that is not ours."

    Read more from the BBC.

  • Dylan Stableford

    Who is Morad Tahbaz, British-American citizen freed by Iran in prisoner swap?

    Tahbaz is seen at Doha International Airport Monday. (Reuters)

    Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist who was jailed in Iran, was among those freed as part of the prisoner exchange brokered between the United States and Iran. London's Evening Standard has a profile of the British-born Tahbaz:

    "Tahbaz, 67, a prominent conservationist and board member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was arrested during a crackdown on environmental activists in January 2018.

    "He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with his colleagues on vague charges of spying for the US and undermining Iran’s security.

    "His wife was also placed under a travel ban by the Iranian authorities. She is understood to have also left Iran with Mr. Tahbaz.

    "Mr. Tahbaz was freed from prison on furlough on the day in March last year that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and British-Iranian dual national Anoosheh Ashoori were freed and allowed to return to the U.K., but he was returned to custody after just two days."

    Read more about Tahbaz from the Evening Standard here.

  • Nicole Darrah

    Prisoner felt he was 'left behind to rot' in Iranian prison

    Siamak Namazi, center, was freed from Iran on Monday. (Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images)

    Siamak Namazi, who had been detained in Tehran while visiting family in 2015, wrote a New York Times op-ed in June 2022 entitled, "I'm an American, Why Have I Been Left to Rot as a Hostage of Iran?"

    USA Today notes Namazi detailed what living in Evin Prison was like.

    "Often kept in a bare, closet-size room, I slept on the floor and received food from under the door – like a dog,” he wrote. “I endured unutterable indignities during the 27 months I spent in that corner of hell before being moved to the general ward."

    He pleaded to President Biden for help, according to USA Today, writing in a message shared by his lawyer: "All I want, sir, is one minute of your day’s time for the next seven days devoted to thinking about the tribulations of the U.S. hostages in Iran."

  • Nicole Darrah

    Biden spoke with the prisoners' families

    The families of the five Americans freed from Iran spoke to President Biden on Monday, according to the family of Emad Shargi, who was among those released.

    CBS News reports that Biden and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with all five families on the same call for just under 10 minutes today. Biden told the families he started the process of bringing their loved ones home when he took office in 2020.

    Read more from CBS News on the prisoner exchange here.

  • Dylan Stableford

    A breakdown of U.S. sanctions on Iran

    A banner depicting Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is illuminated in downtown Tehran in 2021. (Morteza Nikoubazl/AFP)

    As the prisoner swap was underway, the United States announced Monday that it has imposed new sanctions on Iran's intelligence ministry and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the disappearance of Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in mysterious circumstance and is presumed dead.

    Iran is already one of the world's most sanctioned countries. And AFP has a breakdown of the sanctions currently in place:

    Trade: In April 1980, mid-way through the 444-day hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran, Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Iran and imposed restrictions on commerce and travel. Fifteen years later, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton announced a complete ban on trade and investment in Iran, accusing it of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism. To this day nearly all US trade with Iran is banned, from oil to cars and carpets, with exceptions for food, medicine and humanitarian goods.

    Arms: The U.S. continues to ban the trade of all weapons with Iran, three years after a U.N. arms embargo on the Islamic Republic expired. The U.N. embargo ran out under the terms of an international deal on curbing Iran's nuclear program from which then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018. But the U.S. continues to sanction any individual or entity — in the U.S. or elsewhere — that trades weapons with Iran.

    Finance: The U.S. blocks Iranian government assets in the United States and bans U.S. companies from engaging in business with Iran's central bank. It also bans American banks from serving as intermediaries in the transfer of funds to Iran. In 2018, the Trump administration expanded the sanctions to foreign institutions that do business with Iran's central bank, who risk losing access to the U.S. financial system.

    Oil: After having already banned oil exports to the United States, Washington in 1996 enacted a law also sanctioning foreign companies that invest in Iran's oil sector, the country's top foreign exchange earner. In 2019, the U.S. lifted exemptions that had allowed eight countries, including Turkey and India, to continue purchasing Iranian oil, causing a collapse in Iranian oil exports.

    People: Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is among a host of regime officials targeted by U.S. asset freezes and bans on travel to the United States, along with senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which has led crackdowns on pro-democracy protests. Biden's administration has also sanctioned dozens of officials over a clampdown on nationwide protests that erupted over the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian Kurd who died in custody in September 2022 after her arrest for an alleged breach of the Islamic Republic's strict dress rules for women.

    Read more from AFP here.

  • Dylan Stableford

    “I brought 58 HOSTAGES home from many different countries, including North Korea, and I never paid anything.”

    — Former President Donald Trump in a post on Truth Social Monday

  • Dylan Stableford

    Republicans call deal a 'hostage swap'

    While President Biden hailed the return of Americans imprisoned in Iran, Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere are lashing out at the deal.

    "This is a hostage swap for $6 billion," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox Business. "And guess where it's going to go? It's going to go into terror proxy operations."

    Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also characterized the deal as a "hostage" swap. Warning that the exchange could lead to more "kidnappings."

    "The idea of basically paying to release, in this effect, a hostage is a terrible idea," Romney told The Hill.

    But Republicans are already lashing out at Biden over the deal, as they eye unseating the Democrat in next year's presidential election.

    "This is a hostage swap for $6 billion," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox Business. "And guess where it's going to go? It's going to go into terror proxy operations."

    Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the 2024 Republican primary, sharply criticized Biden when the deal was announced last week.

    “Can you believe that Crooked Joe Biden is giving $6 Billion to the terrorist regime in Iran? That money [can] be used for terrorism all over the Middle East, and, indeed, the World. This incompetent FOOL is absolutely destroying America,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social, adding: “He had the audacity to announce this terrible deal today, September 11th. To pay for hostages will lead to kidnapping, ransom, and blackmail against Americans across the globe."

  • Nicole Darrah

    Released prisoner's family speaks out

    In this photo from April 2022, Roxanne Tahbaz holds a picture of her father, who was released on Monday. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

    The family of Morad Tahbaz, who was released on Monday, said they're "overjoyed and relieved to finally have Morad and [his wife] Vida free and on their way back home after six years," according to BBC News.

    “We are grateful to President Biden and his administration for making the difficult but necessary decision to prioritize the lives of American citizens over politics. Thank you for leading with courage and compassion.”

    Tahbaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of spying for the U.S. He's an Iranian who holds both British and American citizenship.

    The 66-year-old has cancer. He was released for medical treatment last year but was then taken back into custody at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran."

    Read more from the BBC here.

  • Nicole Darrah

    What's next for freed Americans

    After landing in Qatar on Monday following their release from Iranian custody, the five Americans exchanged in a prisoner swap — Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi and two others — will be given a medical examination, officials said.

    The freed detainees are then expected to board a U.S. government plane to fly back to Washington.

  • Nicole Darrah

    Biden warns Americans: Don't go to Iran

    Iran is one of several countries the U.S. State Department has warned Americans to avoid visiting. The department has a Level 4 "Do Not Travel" advisory in place for the Middle Eastern nation.

    President Biden on Monday warned Americans against traveling to Iran.

    "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.

    "Reuniting wrongfully detained Americans with their loved ones has been a priority for my Administration since day one. We have now brought home dozens of our fellow citizens, including from Afghanistan, Burma, Haiti, Russia, Rwanda, Venezuela, West Africa, and more locations globally. Still, too many remain unjustly held in Russia, Venezuela, Syria, and elsewhere around the world. We remain unflinching in our efforts to keep faith with them and their families—and we will not stop working until we bring home every American held hostage or wrongfully detained."