WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked Washington to free eight Iranians who he said were “illegally arrested and detained,” in an interview to be aired Sunday.
“It would not be misplaced to ask that the US government should take a humanitarian gesture to release the Iranians who were illegally arrested and detained here in the United States,” Ahmadinejad said, according to excerpts of the interview released by ABC News.
The request came days after Iran freed 32-year-old US national Sarah Shourd after holding her and fellow hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal for more than a year.
All three were arrested on July 31, 2009 after straying into Iran from Iraq. The authorities had charged them with “spying and illegally entering the country.”
Shourd was on her way home early Sunday from the Gulf state of Oman, which mediated in her release after bail of around 500,000 dollars had been paid.
Her mother told AFP last month her daughter was being held in solitary confinement in Evin prison despite suffering from a pre-cancerous cervical condition, a lump in her breast and depression.
The freed hiker will hold a news conference at a New York hotel on Sunday afternoon, her family said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on the same television network, said she felt “great relief” at the announcement of the hiker’s release.
“I was so pleased that this young woman was able to come home,” Clinton said. “I want the other two young Americans — Josh and Shane — to come home as well.”
The Iranian president made the remarks after arriving in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
When asked if Iran would respond to an appeal by the mothers of the two remaining American hikers in Iranian custody, Ahmadinejad said their cases were in the hands of the judiciary.
“They violated the law,” he said. “Do you want violators to be released? Is that what you’re asking me?”
Ahmadinejad did not elaborate on the identity of the eight Iranians he said were being held by the United States.
But Iranian media reports have said the United States is holding around a dozen Iranians in custody, with some detained in other countries at Washington’s request.
Tehran says it is pursuing diplomatic means to obtain the release of nationals including a former deputy minister, Alireza Asgari, who went missing in Turkey three year ago.
Earlier this year Washington allowed the return to Iran of researcher Shahram Amiri who surfaced in Washington after disappearing from Saudi Arabia last year during a pilgrimage.
Another Iranian, Omid Khalili, was charged in January with illegally exporting warplane parts to Iran after reportedly buying them from an undercover American agent, the US Department of Justice said.
Khalili was arrested in March on arrival in Miami and pleaded guilty in a US District Court in Alabama.
Media reports have cited court documents as saying Khalili worked “actively with the Iranian government to procure military items.”
In January, Thai customs officials arrested an Iranian at Bangkok’s main international airport carrying four kilograms (nine pounds) of methamphetamine hidden in a suitcase.
Ghanavatirajabnejad Keyvan, 33, was detained at Suvarnabhumi airport as he went through the nothing-to-declare channel after arriving on a flight from Dubai.
He has reportedly been charged with smuggling illicit drugs and possession of drugs.