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Three Americans freed by Iran headed back home

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Three of the US prisoners freed by Iran arriving in Geneva, Switzerland

Officials say it will be a few days before three Americans, who were freed in a prison swap with Iran, will arrive on U.S. soil.

The families of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini confirmed that they were among five U.S. prisoners who were released in Iran.

Former U.S. Marine, Amir Hekmati is one of the five Americans released by Iran.

Former U.S. Marine, Amir Hekmati is one of the five Americans released by Iran.

The fourth prisoner released in the swap, identified by U.S. officials as Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, decided not to leave Iran, senior White House officials said. “It’s his free determination” whether he wants to stay in Iran, one official said. “We don’t make that judgment.”

White House officials said earlier Sunday that recently detained student Matthew Trevithick also was released — but not as part of the prisoner swap — and had left Iran.

According to multiple news reports, Saeed Abedini a U.S. citizen, and convert to Christianity, of Iranian birth has been arrested and charged in Iran while visiting family. The 32-year-old pastor has reportedly been detained in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since late September.  The charges against him are not clear.  In the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Muslim who converts to another faith can face the death penalty.  Abedini is shown here with his then 4-year-old son.

According to multiple news reports, Saeed Abedini a U.S. citizen, and convert to Christianity, of Iranian birth has been arrested and charged in Iran while visiting family. The 32-year-old pastor has reportedly been detained in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since late September. The charges against him are not clear. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Muslim who converts to another faith can face the death penalty. Abedini is shown here with his then 4-year-old son.

The five Americans had been detained in separate cases, some as early as 2011.

Family members say Jason Rezaian is a family man “whose life was unfairly interrupted when he was arrested for crimes he did not commit.”

 

“I’m relieved, but I’m also elated. I remember the morning a year and a half ago when a scratchy cell phone call told me Jason and his wife had been taken from their apartment the night before,” said Doug Jehl, the newspaper’s foreign editor. “We never could have believed that this nightmare would go on for so long, but I’m just overjoyed that it’s about to be over.”

“I am thrilled and relieved that Jason and these other Americans are no longer in prison,” said Jared Huffman, who represents Rezaian and has been involved in his case.

In exchange for the American prisoners’ freedom, the United States is pardoning or commuting the sentences of an Iranian and six dual citizens of the United States and Iran in what Obama called a “one-time gesture.”

The men allegedly had been involved in exporting products and services to Iran in violation of trade sanctions against the country. They were accused of exporting goods ranging from electronic components and satellite services to marine navigation and military equipment to Iran.

Attorneys for some of the released prisoners confirmed their identities: Bahram Mechanich and Tooraj Faridi of Houston; Khosrow Afghahi of Los Angeles; Ali Saboonchi of Parkville, Maryland; and Arash Ghahreman of Staten Island, New York. The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency named the other men as Nader Madanloo and Nima Golestaneh.

Obama praised the “tireless” effort that went into the prisoner exchange, which comes a day after international inspectors concluded Tehran was in compliance with the deal governing its nuclear program. Iranian officials and U.S. administration officials confirmed the news Saturday. As a result, some international economic sanctions against Iran were lifted.

The deal came after more than a year of secret negotiations, the officials said. The nuclear agreement “accelerated” the prisoner swap, Kerry said.

The United States also agreed to drop charges against 14 other Iranians whose extradition to the United States seemed unlikely, a U.S. official said.

The agreement also calls for Iranian officials to “continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson,” a U.S. official said. Levinson, a former FBI agent and CIA contractor, went missing in Iran in 2007.

Iran has denied holding him.

“We are happy for the other families,” Levinson’s family said in a statement. “But once again, Bob Levinson has been left behind. We are devastated.”

Trevithick’s release was not part of the prisoner swap, but U.S. officials did “indicate to Foreign Minister Zarif that it’d be important for them to try to resolve some of the other cases of Americans detained in the context of this ‘deal,'” a senior administration official told CNN.