The apparent defection last year of an Iranian nuclear scientist with a presumed trove of secrets was hailed by US officials as an “intelligence coup.”
Yet here was the same scientist appearing in a crude video this week saying he had been abducted and tortured.
And then popping up in a second video, retracting the story.
The dueling images, both aired on Iranian television and on multiple websites, have deepened the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Shahram Amiri, an Iranian health physicist who vanished last June while on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. After revealing little about the case, US officials acknowledged this spring that Amiri had defected and had been resettled in the United States after extensive debriefing.
But a man claiming to be Amiri gave a sharply different account on Iranian television in what was billed as an “internet chat” recorded April 5. The dark-haired man, appearing unshaven and disheveled, said he was being held against his will in Tucson.
“I was kidnapped in a joint operation by the American intelligence, CIA terror and kidnap teams, and Saudi Arabia’s Istikhbarat” spy service, the man said in a grainy video aired in Iran on Monday night. He said he had been drugged before being smuggled out of Saudi Arabia, adding that he had been subjected to “severe torture” and “psychological pressures.”
On Wednesday, state television showed a second clip of the same man, now clean-shaven and wearing a suit, refuting the earlier claims. “I would like to urge everyone to stop presenting a distorted image of me,” he says.
The videos prompted a formal diplomatic protest by Iran, and their prominence on Iranian TV fueled speculation that Iran is no longer considering a possible prisoner exchange that would lead to the release of three American hikers held in Iran since July.
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