Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, released by Iran in a prisoner swap last weekend, arrived home on Thursday after more than four years in jail in the Islamic Republic where he faced the death sentence at one point.
Hekmati 32, touched down in a private jet at the airport in his hometown of Flint, Michigan and stepped on to a small red carpet on the tarmac.
“I am happy to finally be home. It’s been a very long road, a very long journey. Unfortunately, many people have travelled this road with me,” he told reporters.
Hekmati was arrested while visiting family in Iran in 2011 and accused of being a U.S. spy, a charge his relatives and the United States deny. He was sentenced to death the following year
but that was commuted to a 10-year prison term.
He was one of five Americans released to coincide with the lifting last weekend of economic sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on Tehran's atomic program. The White House offered clemency to seven Iranians who were convicted or facing trial in the United States.
Hekmati said on Thursday he was "healthy, tall and with my head held high." The son of Iranian immigrants, Hekmati went to high school in Flint, a rust belt town now struggling with a water contamination crisis.
“It’s great to be back in Flint, my hometown. I love this city. I love its people. They have been so good to me and my family and we are very grateful,” Hekmati said.
Another former prisoner in Iran, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, 35, was set to arrive in Atlanta and then fly to Asheville, North Carolina on Thursday to be reunited with members of his family over the next several days, his wife told Reuters.
Abedini, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Iranian origin,
will now spend time at a religious retreat in North Carolina
associated with evangelist Billy Graham.
Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 after being accused of harming Iran's national security by setting up
home-based churches in Iran.
(Reporting by David Bailey, Colleen Jenkins and Ben Klayman; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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Published Date: Jan 22, 2016 05:16 AM | Updated Date: Jan 22, 2016 05:16 AM