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Brittney Griner lands in U.S. after prisoner exchange with Russia

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Brittney Griner landed in San Antonio early Friday after being freed form a Russian penal colony in exchange for the release of international arms dealer Viktor Bout. Photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE
Brittney Griner landed in San Antonio early Friday after being freed form a Russian penal colony in exchange for the release of international arms dealer Viktor Bout. Photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE

Dec. 9 (UPI) -- An airplane carrying WNBA star and Olympian Brittney Griner landed at the U.S. military's Kelly Field in San Antonio on Friday morning after her one-for-one prisoner exchange with Russia the day before.

Griner, a native of Texas, had spent 10 months in Russian custody, after being charged in convicted of drug-related charges at an airport in Moscow. U.S. officials said she had been unjustly detained after being arrested just before the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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"So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home B.G.," said U.S. Special Presidential Envoy Roger D. Carstens tw tweeted Friday.

John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council spokesman, said Griner will likely be seen at a medical treatment facility. She also could take part in a Department of Defense program known as post-isolation support activities to help her acclimate back to normal life.

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Detained U.S. residents like Marine Corps veteran Trevor Reed and the seven Americans who returned from Venezuela in October also participated in that program.

After months of intense negotiations, Russian officials released Griner in the United Arab Emirates, where Moscow received convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in return.

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Griner had been sentenced to serve nine years in a Russian penal colony after her conviction for carrying less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

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Griner's family issued a statement extending "sincere gratitude" to President Joe Biden and his administration for facilitating her return, while calling for the release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans detained abroad.

"We sincerely thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers -- including Paul and the Whelan family who have been generous with their support for Brittney and our family during what we know is a heartbreaking time," the family wrote." We pray for Paul and for the swift and safe return of all wrongfully detained Americans."

Bout, back home in Russia, had been held at a federal prison in Marion, Ill. He was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Thailand following a sting operation in 2008.

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He had been serving a 25-year prison sentence that started 10 years ago after he was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans.

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