US basketball star Brittney Griner freed in prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout

© Evgenia Novozhenina, Reuters

American basketball star Brittney Griner was headed home on Thursday after being freed from a Russian prison in a swap for Viktor Bout, the notorious arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death."

President Joe Biden announced Griner's release in an early morning address to the nation and Moscow confirmed she had been exchanged in Abu Dhabi for Bout, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.

"She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," Biden said, adding that he had spoken to Griner and she was in "good spirits" after what he described as a "terrible ordeal."

Another American held in Russia, Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who was arrested in Russia in 2018 and accused of spying, was not part of the deal and the US president pledged to continue to seek his freedom.

"Sadly, Russia is treating Paul's case different than Brittney's and even though we have not secured Paul's release we will never give up," Biden said.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion and LGBT trailblazer, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February against a backdrop of soaring tensions over Ukraine.

She was accused of possession of vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil and sentenced in August to nine years in prison.

Biden said Griner would need time to recover from "needless trauma" after being "wrongfully detained" and held in Russia's IK-2 penal colony, a facility in the town of Yavas in the central region of Mordovia.

(AFP)


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