AN Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared a year ago was on his way home to Tehran from the United States yesterday, ending a bizarre and mysterious intelligence drama.
Shahram Amiri said in an interview aired yesterday on Iranian state TV that he was abducted by American and Saudi agents while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year, drugged, whisked to the United States, where the CIA sought to force and bribe him into exposing Iranian secrets.
The US has denied claims of an abduction and has depicted Amiri as a willing defector who changed his mind, because he missed, or feared for, his family, still in Iran. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Amiri had been in the United States “of his own free will and he is free to go”.
That was the Obama administration’s first acknowledgment that Amiri was even in the country since he vanished in Saudi Arabia in June 2009, fuelling speculation that he had defected and was offering information on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Whatever happened, Amiri’s case turned into a bizarre spiral last month, when Iranian state TV aired a video he purportedly made from an internet cafe in Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Iranian intelligence claiming US and Saudi “terror and kidnap teams” snatched him. In another, professionally produced one, he said he was happily studying for a doctorate in the United States. In a third, shaky piece of footage, Amiri claimed to have escaped from US agents in Virginia and insisted the second video was “a complete lie” that the Americans put out.
On Monday evening, he appeared at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, asking to be sent home.
“I expect they got to his family,” said Clare Lopez, senior fellow at the Centre for Security Policy and a former operations officer for the CIA. “Now he’ll go back and save them.”
ABC News reported that Amiri called home this year because he missed his wife and son in Iran, and that his son had been threatened with harm.
A US official who was briefed on the case said Amiri, 32, had “left his family behind; that was his choice”. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.
Also unknown is what information of value, if anything, Amiri shared with American intelligence about the Iranian nuclear programme. Before he disappeared, Amiri worked at Tehran’s Malek Ashtar University, an institution closely connected to the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
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