WNBA star Brittney Griner crossed paths with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” during their prisoner swap at an airport in the United Arab Emirates Thursday.
In February, Griner was detained at a Moscow airport after Russian customs officials said they found cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage, NPR reported. She pleaded guilty in July and received a nine-year prison sentence the following month.
Bout was convicted in 2011 on charges of conspiring to kill Americans and was serving a 25-year sentence, according to The New York Times.
He has been accused of supplying arms to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and rebels in Rwanda.
Bout, 55, was probably the highest profile Russian who was being held in the U.S., according to The Times.
Russian state media video, verified by The New York Times, shows the prisoner exchange of Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout, the convicted Russian arms dealer known as “the Merchant of Death,” at an airport in the United Arab Emirates. https://t.co/sw6OPSRgrI pic.twitter.com/QTAYQUZDk8
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 9, 2022
The Wall Street Journal reported that UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman helped broker the deal to secure the swap of Griner for Bout, the two said in a joint statement issued Thursday.
“The successful mediation efforts reflect the strong ties of friendship that the two countries share with the United States and Russia, and the important role played by the leadership of the two brotherly nations in strengthening dialogue between the parties,” the statement said.
The Guardian reported in August the U.S. offered to trade Bout for Griner and American Paul Whelan, a Marine Corps veteran who has been held in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges, but Russia did not accept the deal.
On Friday, Fox News host Dana Perino questioned White House national security spokesman John Kirby about earlier reporting that Russia had offered the U.S. Whelan or Griner in exchange for Bout, but not both.
“What was the actual deal on the table?” Perino asked.
Kirby responded, “The only deal the Russians were willing to put forward was Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout, and believe me we would have liked to have both of them home today.”
KIRBY: THE ONLY DEAL WE COULD GET
A bittersweet return as Griner comes home & ‘Merchant of Death’ walks free.
Paul Whelan again left behind.
— America’s Newsroom (@AmericaNewsroom) December 9, 2022
Kirby added that President Joe Biden had the opportunity to “at least get one, so he made that tough decision.”
Griner landed in Texas on Friday morning at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
👀 WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner is now back on U.S. soil.
Griner was seen getting off a plane that landed early Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas after her release from Russia.#WNBA #NBA #NBAitalia #WNBATwitter #NBATwitter pic.twitter.com/V1cwDmDatz
— NBA News 24 (@nbaitalianews24) December 9, 2022
The Times reported she will first go to Brooke Army Medical Center on the base where she will be medically evaluated before traveling home to Phoenix, Arizona.
“The hospital treats both civilians and military personnel who have survived torture or other trauma,” the news outlet said.
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