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Brittney Griner lands in US after prisoner swap

 

Ten months after she left the US to play basketball in Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner has landed in her home state of Texas.

Griner was jailed for carrying cannabis oil at a Moscow airport in February, and was exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on Thursday, reports the BBC.

She was flown into San Antonio, where she will receive medical care.

The White House’s John Kirby said on Friday morning that Griner is in “good spirits” and “good health”.

President Joe Biden first announced that Griner was returning home on Thursday. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, who attended Biden’s announcement at the White House, was expected to meet her in San Antonio.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement about her return.

Griner was arrested in February – just days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

She is one of the best-known sportswomen in America. During the US basketball season the double Olympic champion was a star centre for Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA.

Her reason for flying to Moscow was to play in Russia during the off-season in the US. During her trial in Russia, she said the cannabis oil found in her bag had been an “honest mistake”.

The Biden administration proposed a prisoner exchange in July, aware that Moscow had long sought the release of Bout, a convicted arms trafficker known as the Merchant of Death. He has been held in an American prison for 12 years.

Footage on Russian state media showed them crossing on the tarmac with their respective teams. In the video, apparently provided by Russian security services, Bout was warmly greeted by two Russian officials as Griner, who is 6ft 9in (206cm), looks on. Part of the swap was then edited out, before showing the two parties going their separate ways.

“The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland,” the Moscow foreign ministry said in a statement.

Live television in Russia showed Bout arriving in Moscow. Pictures showed him hugging his mother and wife at the airport tarmac.

“I made it. That’s the main thing,” he told reporters at the airport.

“In the middle of the night they simply woke me up and said ‘Get your things together,'” he added.

Griner, who turned 32 in October, will be welcomed in Houston with a light show, the city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

It is unclear how long she will remain in San Antonio before travelling to Houston, which is around 200 miles (320km) to the east.

An unnamed US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Griner was expected to receive treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

It is thought she will join the Department of Defence programme known as Pisa (Post Isolation Support Activities), which is reportedly designed to help former detainees adapt back to normal life.

On Thursday, state department spokesman Ned Price said the government would speak to Griner about what she needs.

“She may seek the assistance that the US is going to provide, and we are going to make all of that available to her,” he told MSNBC.

Several Republicans criticised the White House for agreeing to the deal.

“What a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!” former President Donald Trump wrote on his Truth Social website.

“This is a gift to Vladimir Putin, and it endangers American lives.”

And Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger – a high profile critic of Trump’s – wrote on Twitter that the Biden administration had shown “weakness” by agreeing to release Bout.

 

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