On Saturday, nuclear sanctions against Iran were lifted, prompting Iran to free five American prisoners who had previously been unlawfully detained. The prisoner release comes on the same day that International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran had completed the necessary steps to begin implementation of President Barack Obama's Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the highly controversial Iran Deal. On Sunday, Obama credited the release to "smart, patient and disciplined approached to the world."
"This is a good day," said the president, in a statement from the White House. "Once again we’re seeing what’s possible with strong American diplomacy."
The release of the five hostages has prompted many additional questions. Who were the five American captives released by Iran? When will the five American captives arrive home? What were the conditions of the American captives' released? The answers, like the Iranian deal itself, are complicated and multifaceted.
According to The Washington Post and a senior administrative official of the president, three of the Americans were flown out of Iran on Sunday, after a short delay. The Americans were then taken to Switzerland and a United States military installation in Germany for medical inspection before finally being allowed to come home. A White House representative explained, "We can confirm that our detained U.S. citizens have been released and that those who wished to depart Iran have left", suggesting that those released who did not get on a plane did not wish to leave Iran immediately.
The United States initially offered clemency to seven Iranians — six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens — who were convicted or awaiting trial in the United States, in exchange for the American prisoners. In addition, the U.S. agreed to removed charges and drop Interpol red flags on 14 Iranians, all awaiting extradition (although it would have been highly unlikely that any of the would have been successfully or willfully extradited by their country).
As the world watched the Americans travel from country to country on their final journey home, social media was abuzz with questions about their identities. Here's what we know about them and their incredible stories.
Jason Rezaian is a reporter for The Washington Post, and was arrested on July 22, 2014, along with his wife, Abu Dhabi journalist Yeganeh Salehi. Rezaian is a duel United States-Iranian citizen, but Iran does not recognize duel citizenship and refused to release Rezaian to the United States upon his capture, questioning, and arrest.
Rezaian was 38 at the time of his detainment. The charges were "vague" and held in Iran's secretive (and corrupt) Revolutionary Court System. Rezaian - and the other captives - were essentially used as pawns in a larger, international struggle for Iran to appear powerful and capable. On Sunday, that struggle finally came to a screeching halt, with Rezaian boarding a plane to return home.
Amir Hekmati is a former United States Marine who was visiting Iran for the first time to see his aging grandmothers when he was captured. He was sentenced to death by Iranian court on fallacious charges that he was spying on the Iranian government for the CIA.
Hekmati's parents fled to the United States in 1979, just as the Islamic Revolution was beginning. Later, in 2001 to 2005, Hekmati served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a rifleman and translator, deploying to Iraq during the Iraq War in 2003 and 2004.
Saeed Abedini is an American evangelical pastor from Boise, Idaho, who was arrested and imprisoned in 2012 for attempting to establish a number of house churches in Iran. In 2013, he was convicted of "threatening Iran's national security".
Abedini was born and raised in Iran and became a United States citizen in 2010. He was traveling to the country of Georgia, to visit his parents when his passport was taken and he was detained by Iranian officials. His arrest and subsequent conviction was highly publicized and used to highlight the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
"We’ve all learned to have peace no matter what came our way in the midst of ups and downs," Abedini's wife Naghmeh told The Washington Post on Saturday, after learning her husband would finally be coming home. "We’ve trusted God and his timing, and today was the timing."
The fourth American to be freed on Saturday is somewhat of a mystery, and the only released captive to not get on the plane that was taking them home. Little is known about Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, as his capture was never reported on or publicized.
Publications around the world are still waiting to learn more about Khosravi-Roodsari, or hear from his family and/or friends about his release.
Matthew Trevithick was released separately from the four originally freed captives after spending 40 days in an Iranian prison. Trevithick is a journalist who was in Tehran studying Dari when he was captured and imprisoned. Not much is known about his detainment, as it was not reported by any major news sources.
Trevithick had previously worked at numerous American universities in Afghanistan and Iraq while writing for publications including The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Beast.
Images: RICHARD JUILLIART/AFP/Getty Images