Remember the strange case of the Iranian nuclear scientist who allegedly defected to the United States -- only to decide to return to Iran last summer, claiming that he had been kidnapped and missed his family?
U.S. officials said at the time that they would not prevent Shahram Amiri from returning to Iran if he wished, but suggested that authorities back home may not treat him very well.
Now, the Times of London's Hugh Tomlinson reports, despite initially giving him a hero's welcome, Iranian authorities have arrested Amiri and are investigating him for possible treason:
Shahram Amiri, who returned to Iran in July after apparently defecting to the US, is under investigation for divulging secrets about Iran's clandestine uranium-enrichment program, The Times has learnt.
Sources inside Iran have confirmed Mr Amiri's arrest. [...] The arrest adds a twist to this mysterious tale of claim and counterclaim. Mr Amiri, 33, was given a hero's welcome when he returned to Iran last year, with the regime claiming he had been a double agent leaking false information to the U.S.
The physicist vanished during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in June 2009. [...] U.S. media reported he had defected in a long-planned CIA operation. Tehran accused Saudi intelligence of kidnapping Mr Amiri and handing him to the Americans. The CIA declined to comment. ... Mr. Amiri [then] reached out to Tehran in a series of bizarre videos released on YouTube and broadcast on Iranian state television. Sources in Tehran say his family was placed under enormous pressure, with the regime threatening to arrest his wife and kill his son.
Mr Amiri said in the videos he had been kidnapped and drugged by American and Saudi agents and smuggled to the US, where he had been tortured.
In July, he walked into the Iranian interests section of the Pakistani embassy in Washington and sought refuge, saying he was on the run from the CIA. In fact it is believed he was dropped off outside the building. US State Department officials dismissed his story as a "fairytale".
Mr. Amiri was reunited with his family amid joyful scenes at Tehran airport, the regime claiming an intelligence coup over the US. His arrest will test even Tehran's formidable powers of spin. Washington has also been embarrassed by the Amiri affair, concerned that the scientist's plight will damage efforts to persuade further officials to defect.
I was among the group of journalists gathered outside the Iranian interests section on Washington's Wisconsin Avenue last July as Amiri was inside preparing the paperwork he needed to return to Iran. Inside the mini embassy, Amiri also gave telephone interviews to Iranian state television insisting he had been kidnapped and taken to the United States against his will. Amiri, who was reported to have been relocated to Tucson, Arizona after his 2009 defection, had however conducted another interview with a station connected to Iran's Press TV the day before at a U.S. safe house in Virginia, and apparently been dropped off at the Iran interests section at his request by U.S. officials.
"Amiri made his own decisions," a U.S. official told me last July on condition of anonymity. "He chose of his own accord to come to the United States and to leave the United States."
"He provided useful information on the Iranian nuclear program," the official continued. "Now Iran has to manage him. You be the judge as to who got the better end of the deal."
(H/T: Iran-born journalist Meir Javedanfar.)
(Photo, top right: Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared while on a Saudi pilgrimage in 2009, holds his son Amir Hossein, 7, as he arrives at Tehran airport July 15, 2010. Amiri claimed he suffered extreme mental and physical torture at the hands of U.S. interrogators after his disappearance. The Times of London reports March 29, 2011 that Amiri has been arrested in Iran on suspicion of treason. AP Photo/Vahid Salemi. Photo, bottom right: Journalists gathered outside the Iranian interests section in Washington, D.C. July 13, 2010 as Amiri, inside, prepares his paperwork to return to Iran: AP Photo/Drew Angerer.)