January 10, 2012 in Nation/World

Iranians sentence American to death

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration Monday rejected Iran’s charge that a young Iranian-American man used a family trip to Iran as cover for espionage, after the Tehran government issued the first death penalty against a U.S. citizen since the Islamic Revolution 33 years ago. The U.S. suggested the decision was a political ploy.

In a case that surely will heighten tensions with Tehran, Iran charged Amir Mirzaei Hekmati with receiving special training and serving at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before traveling to Iran on an intelligence mission. A court convicted him of belonging to the CIA and trying to incriminate Iran for involvement in terrorism, according to a state radio report Monday.

The United States denied the accusations. The State Department called them a “complete fabrication” and White House spokesman Tommy Vietor added that “allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for or was sent to Iran by the CIA are false.”

The case sheds light on the legal but risky travel of U.S. citizens to Iran, common among many first-generation and second-generation Iranian-Americans but a practice largely hidden to the larger American populace. Thousands are believed to make the trip each year, though the State Department doesn’t have firm figures because people must travel through third countries and most dual nationals enter the Islamic republic using Iranian passports.

Hekmati, 28, is a former military translator who was born in Arizona and graduated from high school in Michigan. His family is of Iranian origin, and Hekmati claims dual citizenship. His father, Ali, a professor at a community college in Flint, Mich., has said his son was visiting his grandmothers in Iran.

The Marine Corps said Amir Nema Hekmati served between 2001 and 2005, including a deployment to Iraq in 2004 and a stint at the military language institute in Monterey, Calif. The Marine records do not indicate any deployment to Afghanistan. It was not clear why the middle name was listed differently.

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