The 15 British marines and sailors held captive in Iran for nearly two weeks arrived back home on Thursday. But Britain's relief at their safe return was tarnished by questions about how they behaved during their detention and why they had been captured in the first place.
At the same time, Prime Minister Tony Blair abandoned the careful, diplomatic language he had used during the crisis. On Thursday, with the captives safely en route to Britain, his tone became tough, almost antagonistic, as he spoke of possible links between Iran and terrorism in Iraq.
The homecoming was carefully choreographed.
On Wednesday, before their release, the seven marines and eight sailors were shown on television wearing outfits issued by the Iranian regime — ill-fitting business suits for the men, and a headscarf-and-trousers ensemble for the lone woman, Leading Seaman Faye Turney. But when they arrived at Heathrow airport on Thursday, they were dressed in military uniforms flown in from Britain.
Boarding two helicopters, they left for their base in Devon, where they are to be debriefed and to undergo medical and psychological checkups, said Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the defense staff.
Seized March 23 while conducting a routine operation in the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway, just north of the Persian Gulf, the captives were repeatedly displayed on Iranian state television, sometimes looking relaxed and smiling. In several cases, they confessed to and apologized for having trespassed on Iranian territorial waters.
The images were jarring, verging on the bizarre. At one point they lined up for handshakes and chats with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The latest footage showed the detainees sipping cups of tea, accepting goody bags of gifts and answering questions from Iranian journalists about things like whether Iran reminded them of Wales. Several appeared to go out of their way to thank the Iranians for releasing them.
"The treatment has been great," Turney said. "Thank you for letting us go. We apologize for our actions."
Des Browne, the defense secretary, told the BBC that the captives "have acted with immense courage and dignity during the time that they have been detained and indeed presented before the media of the world."