CT resident is among 5 freed in US prisoner swap with Iran
Five prisoners sought by the U.S. in a swap with Iran flew out of Tehran on Monday, officials said, part of a deal that saw nearly $6 billion in Iranian assets unfrozen.
One of those prisoners, Morad Tahbaz, is a Connecticut resident who was detained in Iran for more than five years.
"I am relieved that Morad Tahbaz is now free after many long years of unspeakably cruel, inexcusable imprisonment," Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said in a statement. "Morad’s release is a testament to the courage and strength of his family and supporters, who never surrendered fighting for his freedom."
Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent, was arrested in 2018 and received a 10-year sentence. The charges were widely criticized by his family, activists and the U.S. government.
Flight-tracking data showed a Qatar Airways flight take off from Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport, which has been used for exchanges in the past. Several of the former prisoners could be seen climbing the stairs to the flight in video released by Iranian media. The plane later landed in Doha, Qatar.
Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said that the exchange would take place Monday after nearly $6 billion in once-frozen Iranian assets reached Qatar.
“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.”
U.S. Representative Jim Himes who also lobbied for Tahbaz's release, said he should be in Connecticut soon.
"M understanding is that they will spend a few days in Washington, probably for debriefs, and medical and other examinations and then very hopefully, in the next couple of days, maybe a week on the outside, they'll be able to return to Connecticut," Himes said.
The planned exchange comes ahead of the convening of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York, where Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi will speak.
This is a developing story and will be updated. Connecticut Public's Eddy Martinez and Patrick Skahill contributed to this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report.