Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who claimed to have been tortured and imprisoned by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was executed by the Iranian government for alleged espionage on behalf of the U.S..
State-controlled Iranian media confirmed the death on Sunday. "Shahram Amiri was hanged for revealing the country's top secrets to the enemy (US)," spokesperson Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie was quoted as saying by Mizan Online.
However, details of the allegations are murky as the scientist disappeared during a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia in spring of 2009 and claimed to have been subject to CIA extradition and torture.
Amiri went missing in Saudi Arabia in May or June 2009 while on religious pilgrimage to Mecca. In the following months, Iranian officials accused the U.S. of abducting him. The State Department claimed it "had no information" on Amiri.
The Iranian resurfaced publicly on June 7, 2010 in a pair of Internet videos. In one, he claimed he'd been kidnapped by the CIA during his pilgrimage and was being held in Tucson, Arizona, where he has been subject to torture and psychological pressure. In the other, he claimed he was in the U.S. to further his education and was free and safe.
Amiri appeared in a third video posted June 29, 2010, where he said he'd escaped U.S. custody and had reached Virginia. Two weeks later, Amiri walked into the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C., which houses an Iranian interests section, and said he wanted to return to Iran.
After returning to Iran, Amiri was reportedly welcomed by officials there before he was arrested and tried for treason in May 2011. He was carrying out a prison sentence when his body, reportedly "with rope marks around his neck," was returned to his family on Saturday.
Why the change in sentence?
As CNN's Courtney Fennell points out, the recently released emails of former secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton seem to indicate "that Amiri was not abducted, but a defector and paid informant who changed his mind about helping the U.S."
Fennell writes that on July 14, 2010, two weeks after the third video surfaced, "CNN reported that Amiri had returned to Tehran after going to Iran's interest section at the embassy of Pakistan in Washington. CNN's report appears to directly correspond with an email Clinton's top foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan sent her, now being released by the State Department."
In the email, written two days before the news report, Sullivan indicated that the media may have learned about the story.
"The gentleman you have talked to Bill Burns about has apparently gone to his country's interests [sic] section because he is unhappy with how much time it has taken to facilitate his departure," he wrote. "This could lead to problematic news stories in the next 24 hours. Will keep you posted."
Politico's Nahal Toosi continues:
At the time, there were some reports that Amiri, who was born in 1977, was worried about what would happen to his family, especially his young son, whom he had left behind in Iran and who clearly were under the pressure of watchful Iranian authorities.
When he arrived back in Iran, he held his son, then age 7, in his arms as he faced a bank of microphones. He alleged that U.S. and Saudi officials were complicit in his kidnapping, that Israeli agents were involved in interrogating him, and that he'd been offered $50 million to stay in the United States.
Amiri's death comes the same week that Sullivan and Cheryl Mills, two of Clinton's top State Department aides, are scheduled to be interviewed about the use of Clinton's personal email server by a special congressional committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi terror attack.