Who is Shahram Amiri?
Issued on: Modified:
The Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, arrived back in Tehran on July 14, 2010 but left behind a trail of questions and contradictions about his 10-month journey from Saudi Arabia to the US and ultimately back to Iran.
Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri's ten-month odyssey in the United States was filled with all the classic elements of a Hollywood spy thriller: kidnapping, international espionage, nuclear secrets and, for popular appeal, a pair of intriguing You Tube videos. While his story may have the makings of a popular movie, it remains to be determined how much of his dramatic tale is true. Now that Amiri is back in Iran following his sudden departure from the US on July 13, 2010, he leaves behind a number of pressing questions about what actually happened.
The nuclear scientist
Although the Iranian government has never confirmed Amiri's precise role in the country's nuclear programme, the media are variously reporting that he is an expert in radiation detection at several of Tehran's leading nuclear institutes including Tehran's Malek-Ashtar University of Technology, an employee at Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation. While there is consensus Amiri was actively involved in the country's nuclear development programme, the precise nature of his work and his access to Iran's senior leadership have not been confirmed. Media reports have also described Amiri as a "secondary source" to Western intelligence agencies in Iran's nuclear weapons programmes, but "too junior and too removed from the programme’s central leadership to have deep knowledge." So while the United States denies any involvement in his disappearance, it does appear that US intelligence officials had had contact with Amiri, yet for how long and at what level are both questions that remain unanswered.
Amiri allegedly disappeared in the spring of 2009 during a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. His case went public later that year when, according to Iran's Press TV, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottak levelled accusations that Amiri had, in fact, been kidnapped, "we have evidence of a US role in disappearance of the Iranian national in Saudi Arabia. There is evidence to suggest the United States was involved," he said. The United States, for its part, denied the allegation. For the next six to seven months, Amiri's precise whereabouts were not publicly known, until the first of two mysterious videos surfaced on the internet.
Three contradictory videos
Amiri's story became increasingly difficult to follow with the emergence of a trio of videos that seemingly contradicted one another.
In the first video from a location in the Southwestern US city of Tuscon, Arizona, Amiri confirms the 2009 allegations of Foreign Minister Mottak, saying that US and Saudi intelligence had, in fact, abducted him while in Mecca. Iranian state television aired the video along with allegations that Amiri had been tortured and forced to publicly defect from Iran. Then, apparently just hours later, a second video was released on YouTube that tells an entirely different story, "I am free here and I assure everyone that I am safe." He then denied his involvement with Iran's nuclear research programme and claimed that he was in Arizona to pursue his education. Then, on June 29th, a third video was broadcast on Iranian state television where Amiri reaffirms his allegiance to Iran while claiming that he is in danger from US authorities. "I am not free here and I am not permitted to contact my family. If something happens and I do not return home alive, the US government will be responsible," he said.
Amiri returns home
Amiri's time in the United States appears to have come to an abrupt end on July 13, 2010 when he walked in to the Iran interest section of the Pakistan embassy* in Washington. According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, Amiri was compelled to return home due to threats that his family would otherwise be harmed. The United States seemingly did not object to his repatriation, claiming that he had been in the country "of his own free will" and was free to leave at any time.
Amiri back in Tehran on July 14, 2010.