Three Iranian-Americans arrived in Germany after leaving Tehran on Sunday 17 January in a prisoner swap that followed the lifting of most international sanctions on Iran. Family members of released American detainees held in Iran were overjoyed as they prepared to see their loved ones.

Iranian officials released Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, pastor Saeed Abedini, former Marine Amir Hekmati, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari and researcher Matthew Trevithick. Sarah Mektai, sister of Amir Hekmati, said she was in disbelief. "I'm in a fog. This is surreal. I'm still in disbelief and honestly everything just happened so quickly that I don't think it will hit me until I am hugging him and I am seeing him."

Naahgmeh Abedini, Saeed Abedini's wife, said the experience has been a rollercoaster. "I woke up my kids around 7.30am and told them that daddy was coming home and he was out of the prison, and they were so shocked and they were jumping up and down. It's just been a rollercoaster but it came really unexpected."

A Swiss plane took Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief; Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Idaho; and Amir Hekmati, a former US Marine from Flint, Michigan, as well as some family members, from Tehran to Geneva, Switzerland. Shortly afterward, the three left for a US military base in Germany, arriving there later on Sunday 17 January, a US State Department official said. One more Iranian-American released under the same swap, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, was not aboard the aircraft. A fifth prisoner, American student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately on Saturday, a US official said.

Several Iranian-Americans held in US prisons after being charged or convicted for sanctions violations have also been released, their lawyers said. The lifting of sanctions and the prisoner deal considerably reduce the hostility between Tehran and Washington that has shaped the Middle East since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979.