Five Iranian Americans detained by Iran were allowed to leave the country Monday, according to Iranian and White House officials, after an agreement was reached to free them in return for the dismissal of federal charges against five imprisoned Iranians and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian assets.
The Americans took off in a plane from Tehran just before 9 a.m. Eastern time and were expected to fly to Doha, the capital of Qatar. Officials said they would be given brief medical checkups before flying to Washington on a U.S. government plane. Several of the Iranian American prisoners, who hold dual citizenship, had been moved from the notorious Evin Prison to a hotel last month, according to officials at the State Department and the National Security Council.
The U.S. government had deemed the five wrongfully detained. Their release comes after more than two years of quiet negotiations between Washington and Tehran.
Here’s what we know about the detainees who left Iran:
Namazi, 51, an Iranian American businessperson, has become the American citizen that Iran has acknowledged imprisoning for the longest amount of time. He flew to Iran from his home in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, in the summer of 2015 to visit his parents and attend a funeral, but was charged with “collaborating with a hostile government” — a reference to the United States.
Iranian authorities later arrested Namazi’s father, Baquer Namazi, a senior retired U.N. official, when he visited Iran to check on his son. But the elder Namazi was allowed to leave Iran for health reasons in October after being under house arrest.
In January, Siamak Namazi began a hunger strike in a direct appeal to President Joe Biden to negotiate for his release.
Sharghi, 59, also a dual Iranian American citizen and businessperson, moved to Iran in 2017 with his wife, Bahareh Amidi Shargi, after their daughters left for college. The couple wanted to reconnect with the language and the culture of a place they had both left as children, and Emad Sharghi started working for an Iranian venture capital fund.
A partner at a company in Abu Dhabi leasing and selling private airplanes, Sharghi had explored business opportunities with Iranian startups.
Sharghi was arrested in 2018 and released after an eight-month detention, but he was not allowed to leave Iran. When he tried to flee the country illegally in 2020 he was captured and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of collaboration with an enemy state.
Tahbaz, 67, an Iranian American businessperson who also holds British citizenship, is a wildlife conservationist who co-founded the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection of endangered animals in Iran.
In 2018, he was arrested along with eight other employees of the organization on charges of “contacts with the U.S. government” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. His wife, Vida, also a U.S. citizen, was in Iran at the time of his detention and was barred from leaving the country. She is on a plane with him leaving Iran.
During his imprisonment, Tahbaz has suffered from prostate cancer and contracted COVID-19 three times, his daughter Tara said in an interview with Reuters in April.
On Monday, the family said in a statement that they were “overjoyed and relieved” that Tahbaz and his wife were on their way home. The family will focus on the couple’s health and the “path to recovery of these lost years,” they said.
Two Unnamed Detainees
The two other detainees have remained unnamed at the request of their families, the U.S. government has said. One is a scientist and businessperson from California, detained nearly a year ago. The other is a woman who worked for humanitarian aid groups in Afghanistan and was arrested in 2023. Her detention delayed the U.S.-Iran prisoner deal when the United States said that all American citizens must be included in the swap, according to people familiar with the deal and Iranian media reports.
— The Iranians
As part of the deal, U.S. authorities will drop charges against five Iranian nationals — although only some of them were held in American jails.
According U.S. officials, three of the five Iranians declined to return to the country. One of them will join his family in a third country and two will remain in the United States, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.
Here is what we know about them:
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi
According to the Justice Department, Afrasiabi, 65, a political scientist and author, was arrested in 2021 at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts, on charges of acting as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government. Afrasiabi had portrayed himself as an objective, neutral expert on Iran to Congress, journalists and the American public, while being a secret employee of the government of Iran, John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement at the time. He was awaiting trial and had said publicly that he did not plan to return to Iran.
Ansari, 42, was convicted in 2021 and sentenced to 63 months in prison for his part in a plan to “obtain military sensitive parts” for Iran in a violation of the Iranian trade embargo. The Justice Department said the equipment could have been used to test systems including nuclear weapons, missile guidance and offensive electronic warfare.
Kambiz Attar Kashani
Kashani, an Iranian American dual citizen, was sentenced to 30 months in prison in February 2023 for conspiring to illegally export U.S. goods and technology to users including the Central Bank of Iran, an entity that supports organizations that the United States has designated as terrorist groups. Kashani provided the central bank and others with U.S. electronic equipment and software that “enabled the Iranian banking system to operate more efficiently, effectively and securely,” the Justice Department said, using two companies in the United Arab Emirates as a front.
Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani
Kafrani, 48, an Iranian and Canadian national, was charged with exporting lab equipment to Iran in 2021. According to the U.S. Justice Department, Kafrani failed to get a license to export some of the laboratory material, which is controlled for nuclear nonproliferation reasons.
Kafrani exported the material through Canada and the United Arab Emirates, and was indicted by a U.S. grand jury on several counts, including conspiracy and money laundering, the Justice Department said in a statement at the time.
Hasanzadeh, 46, an Iranian national, had been working as a hardware engineer in Michigan and was charged in 2019 with stealing confidential documents and technical data from his employer. According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan, Hasanzadeh emailed sensitive documents to his brother, Sina Hasanzadeh, who had connections with Iranian companies “of proliferation concern,” including the Basamad Azma Co., which researchers have linked to Iran’s cruise missile research.
Hasanzadeh had also worked as a research faculty member at Florida State University and conducted research at a lab at the University of Maryland, according to the complaint, which said that an investigation found that he had served in the Iranian military — information that he concealed on immigration documents, prosecutors alleged.