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Brittney Griner lands in Texas: Basketball star is finally back on US soil for the first time in ten months after prisoner swap with Merchant of Death Russian arms dealer

  • WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia in February on drug charges
  • White House agreed a swap deal with Russia in exchange for Viktor Bout
  • Griner arrived at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas early on Friday morning, and is now expected to be transferred to a nearby military facility for a check-up

American basketball star Brittney Griner landed in Texas on Friday morning, footage showed, after she was released from a Russian prison in a high-profile exchange for a notorious arms dealer on Thursday.

Griner, 32, who was arrested in Russia in February on drug charges, was expected to be transferred to a nearby military facility for medical checks.

The WNBA star was swapped for ‘Merchant of Death’ Viktor Bout, 55 – who was serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison – ending what President Joe Biden called months of ‘hell’ for her and her wife.

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The swap deal comes against a backdrop of soaring tensions over Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, and has been criticised by Republicans for handing the notorious arms dealer back to Moscow.

American basketball star Brittney Griner landed in the US state of Texas on Friday morning (pictured), footage broadcast on CNN and Fox News showed, after she was released from a Russian prison in exchange for a notorious arms dealer

Griner was seen getting off a plane that landed Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, after flying from the UAE where the prisoner trade took place.

The deal secured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad and achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden.

However, the U.S. failed to win freedom for another American, Paul Whelan, who has been jailed for nearly four years – leading to criticism of Biden from his opponents.

Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Baylor University All-American and Phoenix Mercury pro basketball star.

Her status as an openly gay Black woman, locked up in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LBGTQ community, injected racial, gender and social dynamics into her legal saga and brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.

The athlete, who also played pro basketball in Russia, was arrested at an airport there in February after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil. Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be ‘wrongfully detained’ – a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.

Pictured: A smiling Griner is seen arriving at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas on Friday

Pictured: A smiling Griner is seen arriving at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas on Friday

Pictured: The plane carrying Griner is seen on the tarmac at the San Antonio airport

Pictured: The plane carrying Griner is seen on the tarmac at the San Antonio airport

Pictured: Brittney Griner is seen on a plane on her way home, where she is told that she will be going back to the US. Asked what her mood was, she said: 'Happy'

Pictured: Brittney Griner is seen on a plane on her way home, where she is told that she will be going back to the US. Asked what her mood was, she said: ‘Happy’

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed Thursday’s swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and Bout had been flown home.

Biden spoke by phone with Griner. U.S. officials said she would be offered specialized medical services and counseling.

In releasing Bout, the U.S. freed a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S. in 2010.

Bout was serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.

Following Griner’s arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February, she pleaded guilty in July but still faced trial because admitting guilt in Russia’s judicial system does not automatically end a case.

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She acknowledged in court that she possessed canisters with cannabis oil but said she had no criminal intent and she accidentally packed them. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

This is a breaking news story. More to follow… 

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