Former Marine held in Iran returns home, pastor set to arrive today

Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, recently released from an Iranian prison, arrives at an airport in Flint, Michigan, on January 21, 2016. REUTERS / Rebecca Cook

(Reuters) – 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.

Hekmati 32, touched down in a private jet at the airport in his home town of Flint, Michigan.

“I am happy to finally be home. It’s been a very long road, a very long journey. Unfortunately, many people have traveled this road with me,” he told reporters.

Hekmati was arrested while visiting relatives in Iran in 2011 and accused of being a U.S. spy. He was sentenced to death the following year but that was commuted to a 10-year prison term.

He said on Thursday he was “healthy, tall and with my head held high.”

He was one of five Americans released to coincide with the implementation of a nuclear deal under which international economic sanctions against Iran were lifted 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.

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 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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