Execution Puts Sad Coda on Iran's Strange Spy Saga

Returning to see son may have been scientist's fatal move
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2016 6:03 AM CDT
Execution Puts Sad Coda on Iran's Strange Spy Saga
Shahram Amiri, center, is seen with his 7-year-old son Amir Hossein as he arrives at the Imam Khomeini airport, Thursday, July 15, 2010.    (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

(Newser) – We may never know the full story of Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri—but we know it ended very badly for him. Iran confirmed on Sunday that it had executed the 38-year-old, who disappeared on a 2009 trip to Saudi Arabia, was named as a defector to the US months later, and returned to Iran in July 2010 after surfacing in Washington, claiming he had been kidnapped and interrogated by the CIA. In reality, he appears to have been a genuine defector, who was warned by the CIA that he would be hanged if he returned to his homeland but went back anyway because he missed his young son, and possibly feared for the boy's safety after threats from Tehran, the New York Times reports in a look back at what it calls a "confusing, and at times heart-rending" saga.

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After Amiri returned to Iran—and was photographed having a joyous reunion with his 7-year-old son—US authorities said he had been given $5 million to defect, but he left the money behind when he went home, fearing for his family's safety. The AP notes that Amiri's case was apparently referred to in Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department. "We have a diplomatic, 'psychological' issue, not a legal one. Our friend has to be given a way out," wrote senior adviser Jake Sullivan just before Amiri's return to Tehran. "He’s free to go," wrote Clinton. "He was free to come. Those decisions are his alone to make." The Times notes that weeks after his return, Amiri disappeared. His mother told BBC Farsi that a 10-year prison sentence was recently changed to death—and when the family was given his body, he had rope marks around his neck. (Read more Shahram Amiri stories.)

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