The Iranian nuclear scientist executed by Iran for being an American spy was part of a mysterious espionage drama in which he filmed YouTube videos from a safe house.
Shahram Amiri’s hanging by the Iranian government, announced in August 2016, sparked a political battle in the United States because he was mentioned in some of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Six years before his execution, Amiri claimed that American intelligence agents had kidnapped him, but they said he left Iran his own before demanding to go back.
“Emails from Hillary Clinton released by the U.S. State Department in 2015 – part of investigations into her use of a private server for official business – seemed to lend credence to the idea that Amiri defected to the US during his trip to Saudi Arabia,” wrote Christian Science Monitor.
The scientist was a former university researcher and father.
Here’s what you need to know
1. Amiri Put a Video on YouTube Claiming The United States Had Abducted Him
Amiri first became a public figure when he filmed a YouTube video in 2010 and claimed he was in an American safe house and had been abducted by The Central Intelligence Agency, The New York Times said.
Amiri had disappeared in 2009 after a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, BBC said. He claimed the United States kidnapped him and put him under “intense psychological pressure to reveal sensitive information,” said BBC.
The Times said that Amiri then filmed a second video claiming instead that he was in the United States to study but missed his son, who was back in Iran:
“Was he a spy, recruited by the United States for his insider knowledge of the Iranian nuclear program? Or a double agent, sent by Tehran to spread disinformation, or to learn what the Americans knew?” The New York Times asked.
2. Hillary Clinton’s Emails Mentioned the Iranian Scientist, Reports Say
Republican Senator Tom Cotton said on Face the Nation, that Amiri is mentioned in the emails Hillary Clinton shared on a private server.
“I’m not going to comment on what he may or may not have done for the United States government, but in the emails that were on Hillary Clinton’s private server, there were conversations among her senior advisors about this gentleman,” the Arkansas senator said.
Republicans said the emails put Amiri at risk, an accusation Donald Trump repeated on Twitter.
Democrats deny that Clintons emails are related to Amiri’s hanging, saying Amiri’s defection was publicly known and the FBI said it had no evidence Clinton’s emails were ever hacked.
In a statement reported by CNN, Clinton’s campaign said Trump was using “increasingly desperate rhetoric to attack Hillary Clinton and make absurd accusations because they have no ideas for the American people.”
Fox News confirmed that “un-redacted Clinton server emails released last year appear to refer to Amiri as ‘our friend'” but said “it’s unclear whether those references put him at any additional risk.”
According to Fox, senior adviser Jake Sullivan forwarded Clinton an email on July 5, 2010, just 10 days before Amiri’s return to Tehran, that says: “We have a diplomatic, ‘psychological’ issue, not a legal one. Our friend has to be given a way out.”
Other emails refer to Amiri, said Fox.
At the time Amiri first appeared in the United States, U.S. officials had said publicly that “Amiri had defected of his own accord and provided ‘useful information,'” said BBC.
3. Amiri Initially Returned to Iran as a Hero
Amiri went back to Iran after he walked into the Pakistani embassy in Washington D.C. and demanded to be sent back to Iran, where he received a hero’s welcome, said NBC.
He returned to Iran and the embrace of his tearing up son and wife and said he resisted the United States’ pressure to pretend he had defected, said Al-Jazeera.
How he ended up in America in the first place always remained shrouded in mystery. Although Amiri said that Saudi and American spies had joined together to kidnap him, U.S. officials “said he was to receive millions of dollars for his help in understanding Iran’s contested nuclear program,” said NBC.
4. The Iranians Hanged Amiri & Returned His Body to His Family With Rope Marks Around His Neck
The Iranians executed the nuclear scientist after convicting him of treason, NPR said.
Amiri’s mother said “the body had been handed over with rope marks around his neck,” Al-Jazeera quoted BBC.
Amiri “had access to top secret information about the Islamic Republic of Iran,” which he provided to the United States, NPR quoted the Iranians as saying.
NBC quoted the Iranian government as saying that Amiri was executed because he “provided the enemy with vital information of the country.”
5. There Was Little Information Released About Amiri’s Life After His Return to Iran
Little information trickled out about what happened to Amiri in between his return to Iran and his execution.
In 2015, his father Asgar Amiri told the BBC that son “had been held at a secret site since coming home,” NBC said.
Before showing up in the U.S., Amiri worked “at a university research program which the European Union had linked to Iran’s defense ministry,” said Christian Science Monitor. U.S. intelligence said he had run a radiation detection program there, said the news site.