Mystery deepens over Iran scientist filmed in Arizona
Two conflicting videos beg question: was Shahram Amiri abducted or did he defect?
One of Iran's top nuclear scientists, Shahram Amiri, appears to have become a pawn in a propaganda war between the secret services of the United States and Iran, just as the UN Security Council is voting on a fourth round of American-backed sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.
Two conflicting videos - which show all the signs of having been made and disseminated by the rival agencies - have appeared on YouTube this week. Both purport to feature Amiri, a 32-year-old graduate of Malek Ashtar University who worked for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.
In the first, a grainy recording in which Amiri wears headphones and talks to a webcam, the Iranian claims he was kidnapped by the Americans and is living in Tucson, Arizona against his will.
In the clip, shown on Iranian TV, he says he was taken on June 3 last year by Saudi Arabian intelligence officers in Medina while he was on a pilgrimage. He claims he was drugged and that when he became conscious, "I found myself in a plane on the way to the US."
He added: "Since I was abducted and brought to the US I was heavily tortured and pressured by US intelligence."
Within hours, a second video was posted on YouTube (above), this one of TV quality, showing Amiri in a much more comfortable setting, a chessboard at his elbow. He said he was living in Arizona of his own free will and wished to stay in the US to further his education.
It neatly supported the US state department's line on the matter. Spokesman Philip Crowley told the media: "Did the United States kidnap [Mr Amiri] from Saudi Arabia? The answer is No."
Speaking in Farsi, and apparently reading from a script, Amiri says in the second video: "I am free here and I assure everyone I am safe. My purpose in today's conversation is to put an end to all the rumours that have been levelled at me over the past year. I am Iranian and I have not taken any steps against my homeland."
Those rumours began when ABC TV ran an item in March saying Amiri had defected and was helping the US compile intelligence on Iran's nuclear weapons programme, the uranium enrichment plant outside the city of Qom whose existence was revealed last September.
Helping to further confuse the riddle of the two videos, there has been speculation that Iran might swap three American hikers, who have been in jail in Tehran since last summer, for Amiri. The three - Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal - were charged with espionage after being picked up on the Iran-Iraq border. ·
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