Twelve crew members from a Venezuelan plane linked to Iran’s elite Quds Force returned home on Friday after being held for three months in Argentina.
They were welcomed at Simon Bolivar International Airport near Caracas by dozens of family members and government officials.
On Tuesday, an Argentine appeals court authorized the 12 crew members to leave the country, while the seven remaining members were barred from joining them. Those seven included four Iranians, one of whom is accused of belonging to the Quds Force, a group within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that the US classifies as a terror organization.
“I am extremely excited to be back. Really being here, sharing it with our family… fills us with emotion,” said crew member Vicente Raga in an interview with state television, according to the Buenos Aires Times. “A part of us stayed there, with the comrades who did not come [with us], but we hope they will soon be back,” Raga added.
Raga’s Boeing 747 cargo plane, owned by Venezuelan company Emtrasur, has been held in Argentina since it arrived on June 8 from Mexico with a shipment of auto parts, after having tried unsuccessfully to enter Uruguay.
A judge at the time ordered the plane be detained in light of an investigation into the crew of 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians.
Last month, a judge gave the green light for 11 Venezuelans and one Iranian to leave Argentina.
That decision was confirmed that decision Tuesday by a La Plata appeals court.
The plane first entered Argentina on June 6 from Mexico but, unable to refuel in Buenos Aires due to US sanctions on Venezuela, it left for Montevideo on June 8. But the Uruguayan authorities refused it access, and it flew back to Argentina.
An Argentine judge then granted a request from the United States to seize the plane on the basis that laws were broken when Iran — also under US sanctions — sold it to Venezuela.
Before traveling to Argentina, the plane had been in Paraguay in mid-May after a trip to the island of Aruba with a cargo of cigarettes.