Iranian Nuclear Scientist Returns Home, but Questions Remain

BY Quinn Bowman  July 15, 2010 at 3:21 PM EST


Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri holding the hand of his son. Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who claims he was abducted by the CIA a year ago, abruptly returned to his home in Iran on Thursday. U.S. officials have denied his claims. And plenty of questions remain about the whole story behind his case.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. paid Amiri more than $5 million for information about Iran’s nuclear program reportedly from a secret fund set up to help scientists and others with nuclear knowledge resettle in the United States after defecting.

“I was under the harshest mental and physical torture,” said Amiri at the Tehran airport, the Associated Press reported. “I have some documents proving that I’ve not been free in the United States and have always been under the control of armed agents of U.S. intelligence services.”

But U.S. officials said Amiri came to the United States on his own and provided valuable information about Iran’s nuclear program. “He was here of his own volition and left of his own volition,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “If he wants to talk about this, he can.”

Amiri appeared to give conflicting accounts of his time in the United States in several separate YouTube videos.

In June, a man saying he was Amiri appeared in a video message on Iranian state media and said he was living in Tucson, Ariz., and had undergone eight months of “the most severe tortures and psychological pressures,” according to a BBC profile.

He described himself as a researcher at Malek Ashtar University, but claimed the United States wanted him to pretend he had stolen nuclear secrets, the profile says.

But then in another video message on YouTube posted later in the day, the same man said he was in the U.S. to continue his education and was not involved in weapons research, adding: “I am free here and I assure everyone that I am safe.”

Conflicting information about his knowledge of the nuclear industry also came to light. In October, Amiri’s wife told the hardline Iranian newspaper, Javan (Youth), that her husband was “only a researcher and did not hold any government post,” according to another profile in the Guardian. The unnamed woman said his research was in the field of physics.

But three months after Amiri’s June 2009 disappearance during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, Iran told the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that it was constructing a uranium enrichment facility near Qom, south of Tehran. “There have been suggestions that Amiri worked at the Qom facility,” the Guardian profile says.

Learn more about the Amiri case on Thursday’s NewsHour.