DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Connecticut resident who was among the five Americans sought by the U.S. in a swap with Iran has been released.
Morad Tahbaz was reportedly on a Qatar Airways flight that took off from Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport on Monday. It is believed his wife, Vida, who was not imprisoned, was on the flight as well.
“I am relieved that Morad Tahbaz is now free after many long years of unspeakably cruel, inexcusable imprisonment,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in a statement after news they were released. “Morad’s release is a testament to the courage and strength of his family and supporters, who never surrendered fighting for his freedom. I share their relief that his serious medical condition may now be treated, and his well-deserved liberty and rights have been restored.”
Congressman Jim Himes (CT-04) said he is "overjoyed" to hear about Tahbaz's release, and that it took almost six years to get him home to Connecticut and reunited with his family.
“This news brings tremendous relief for Morad’s children...who have been their father’s fiercest advocates, and for his wife Vida who has been barred from leaving Iran until now," Himes said in a statement. "I am delighted that the Tahbaz family will finally be reunited. I remain ready to support the family through their reentry and adjustment into American life."
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said in a statement:
“I am relieved beyond measure that Morad Tahbaz, Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and other unjustly detained Americans are on their way home today after years of imprisonment in Iran. I have worked relentlessly with Senator Blumenthal, Congressman Himes, and the Tahbaz family to secure their release, and I’m immensely grateful to President Biden for making today possible. I also appreciate the invaluable role of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad and Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tariq in facilitating their return. After almost six years of brutal imprisonment, Morad and his wife Vida will finally be reunited with their family and I wish them every happiness.”
Tahbaz is a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who lives in Weston. He was arrested in 2018 and received a 10-year sentence. His wife Vida was not imprisoned but was prevented from leaving the country.
The other Americans in the swap included Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges, and Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years. All of their charges have been widely criticized by their families, activists and the U.S. government.
U.S. officials have so far declined to identify the fourth and fifth prisoners.
On Monday's flight, all five Americans and two family members were onboard, U.S. officials said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani was the first to acknowledge the swap would take place Monday. He said the cash sought for the exchange that had been held by South Korea was now in Qatar.
Kanaani made his comments during a news conference aired on state television, but the feed cut immediately after his remarks.
“Fortunately Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea were released and God willing today the assets will start to be fully controlled by the government and the nation,” Kanaani said.
“On the subject of the prisoner swap, it will happen today, and five prisoners, citizens of the Islamic Republic, will be released from the prisons in the U.S.,” he added. “Five imprisoned citizens who were in Iran will be given to the U.S. side.”
He said two of the Iranian prisoners will stay in the U.S.
The planned swap has unfolded amid a major American military buildup in the Persian Gulf, with the possibility of U.S. troops boarding and guarding commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all oil shipments pass.
The deal has also already opened U.S. President Joe Biden to fresh criticism from Republicans and others who say that the administration is helping boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to American troops and Mideast allies. That could have implications for his reelection campaign as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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