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US and Iran swap prisoners following Qatar-mediated deal

Two countries complete a prisoner swap after $6 billion of Iranian funds in South Korea are unfrozen
US citizens Siamak Namazi (2nd-L) and Morad Tahbaz (R) are welcomed by people upon disembarking from a Qatari jet upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Doha on September 18, 2023 (AFP)

Five American citizens flew out from Tehran en route to Doha on Monday as part of a prisoner swap deal between the United States and Iran, according to media reports. 

Reuters news agency said a plane sent by mediator Qatar took the five American detainees and two members of their families after $6bn of Iranian funds were unfrozen and transferred to accounts in Doha. 

The deal, brokered by Qatar after months of negotiations, also saw the release of five Iranians by Washington.

Two of them have landed in Doha, according to Reuters and Iranian outlet Press TV. The other three chose to remain in a third country. 

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The swap took place as Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in New York, where he is expected to address the United Nations General Assembly. 

The five Americans with dual nationality are planned to first fly to Doha, and then onwards to the US. 

Three of them were identified as Siamak Namazi, held in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in prison; Emad Sharghi, a businessman sentenced to 10 years; and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist arrested in 2018 and jailed for 10 years. All three men were held on spying charges.

The other two wished to remain unnamed.  

Four of the Iranian prisoners released were Mehrdad Moein Ansari, Kambiz Attar Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, and Amin Hasanzadeh. 

They were convicted of sending information to Iran or sending equipment to Tehran that the US had deemed prohibited.

The fifth, Kaveh Afrasiabi, is a US-based political scientist and author who was charged in 2021 for failing to notify US authorities that he had a relationship with Iranian authorities.

'Thank you President Biden for putting human life before politics'

- Siamak Namazi, detainee

“Thank you President Biden for putting human life before politics,” Namazi said in a statement Monday, adding that US President Joe Biden “made incredibly difficult decisions to save us."

“Thank you for putting an end to this nightmare.”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced that it would introduce new sanctions that will target former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Ministry of Intelligence.

The US Congress was informed of the decision on Monday last week. It was also acknowledged for the first time that the five Iranian citizens would be released.

Republican lawmakers condemned the prisoner swap deal accusing Biden of paying ransome money.

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