An Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared a year ago headed back to Tehran on Wednesday, telling Iranian state media that he was abducted by CIA agents who tried to bribe him into speaking out against his homeland. The U.S. says he was a willing defector who changed his mind.
Shahram Amiri's reappearance broke into the open an often-bizarre intelligence drama. U.S. officials have dismissed accounts of a kidnapping and suggested Amiri returned home because he missed or feared for his family. But much in the case remains mysterious, including the exact circumstances of how the defection fell apart and what information, if any, he provided about Iran's controversial nuclear program.
Also unknown is whether the 32-year-old scientist could face any punishment in his homeland after the State Department said he came willingly to the United States and was in contact with the government.
On Wednesday, Iranian state media were heavily promoting the account that he was the victim of a CIA kidnapping, and politicians were declaring a victory over the "terrorist state" America -- suggesting that at least for now, the government would rather squeeze the return for propaganda value than overtly retaliate.
Amiri vanished in Saudi Arabia while on a pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in June 2009, fueling speculation that he had defected and was spilling nuclear secrets. The United States and its allies accuse Tehran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies, saying its program is for peaceful purposes.
His case turned even stranger 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 U.S. 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 video, Amiri claimed to have escaped from U.S. agents in Virginia and insisted the second video was "a complete lie" that the Americans put out.
U.S. officials never acknowledged he was on American soil until Tuesday, hours after he turned up at the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, asking to be sent home. 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."
In an interview with Iranian state Press TV from the interests section before heading home, Amiri elaborated on his abduction account and denied he was ever a willing defecto