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Possible explanations for Iranian scientist mystery

15 July 10 12:34
Shahram Amiri addresses the press in Tehran (15 July 2010)
By Jon Leyne
Middle East correspondent, BBC News, Cairo

The Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri is home safely with his family in Iran, following a tearful reunion with his family at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport.

He is being treated as a hero by the Iranian authorities, at least for the time being.

Yet almost nothing about this strange case is clear, and it may never be.

Straight off the plane Mr Amiri walked with the Iranian deputy foreign minister into a news conference.

He repeated - and elaborated on - his earlier story.


Mr Amiri described how he was kidnapped by agents in Saudi Arabia, drugged and then flown to the US.

During his interrogation in America he was subjected to mental and physical torture, he said.

Israeli agents were present. At some stage he was offered $50m (£33m) to remain in the US.

But he escaped, and made his way to the Iranian diplomatic mission in Washington, he said.

American officials, by contrast, continue to insist that he arrived in the US freely, and left freely.

American sources have told US media that Mr Amiri was given $5m, first to start passing them secrets on the Iranian nuclear programme, then to defect in person.

In past briefings, they have explained this was part of a wider programme, using Iranians in the US to get to access to individuals working on sensitive programmes inside Iran.

According to this version of events, Mr Amiri began sending videos to Iran claiming he had been abducted as a way to get back in favour with the authorities, so that he could return to see his family.

As Shahram Amiri has now pointed out, why would he have defected to the US while leaving his family in Iran?

'Simple researcher'

There are a number of possibilities.

Maybe the CIA promised him they would get the family out at a later date, and then failed to deliver.

Maybe Mr Amiri himself naively underestimated the difficult of getting his family out, or the pressure the Iranian authorities would place on them.

While the Americans continue to stress the importance of the information on Iran's nuclear programme furnished by Mr Amiri, he has described himself as just a "simple researcher" with no knowledge or access to the most controversial sites, such as the enrichment plants at Natanz or Fordo.

As Shahram Amiri was flying back to Iran, US intelligence sources put a brave face on it.

They now had the information, they pointed out, even if Iran had their man.

That may well be the case.

But whatever the circumstances of Mr Amiri's return, it sends a strong message to Iranian exiles or possible defectors.

They may leave Iran, but the Iranian government will not leave them alone - wherever they are in the world.

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