The family of Amir Hekmati, the Arizona-born ex-Marine currently held in Iran accused of being a CIA spy, said today the Iranian government told them to "remain silent" about Hekmati's arrest should they want him released.
"The Iranian government detained Amir on Aug. 29, 2011 without any charges, and urged our family to remain silent with the promise of an eventual release," the family of the U.S.-raised veteran said in a statement. "Amir has never had any affiliation with the CIA, and these allegations are untrue. Amir's family hopes that this misunderstanding can be resolved peacefully with Iran, and that Amir can be reunited with his family and friends in the U.S. who miss him dearly and are praying for his safe return."
For months Hekmati's story stayed under wraps until Iranian television broadcast a "confession" by Hekmati Sunday in which the 28-year-old said he was sent by the CIA into Tehran to infiltrate the Iranian intelligence ministry.
"It was their [the CIA's] plan to first burn some useful information, give it to them [the Iranians] and let Iran's Intelligence Ministry think that this is good material," Hekmati, a dual Iranian-American citizen, says in English in the video.
The family said they were "shocked" by the "false information and forced confessions."
According to Hekmati's family, he had received permission from the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, D.C., to travel to Iran for the first time in his life to visit his extended family, including two elderly Iranian grandmothers. Two weeks into his visit, he was suddenly arrested without explanation. Hekmati's mother, father, two sisters and brother all live in the U.S.
"My son is no spy. He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," Amir's father, Ali Hekmati, told ABC News Monday. "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."
In the Iranian broadcast, Hekmati was described as having been trained in military intelligence for 10 years by the U.S. Army before being sent in country on his secret mission to become a double agent for the CIA. But military service records provided to ABC News showed Hekmati is an ex-Marine, was never in the Army and never had any military intelligence training. He spoke Arabic and may have helped translate for his Marine unit, but left service in 2005 as a rifleman.
The elder Hekmati said his son worked for a security contractor after his Marine service, but insisted he never had intelligence training there either. The Associated Press reported Hekmati briefly worked for the major security contractor BAE Systems before going to work for another contractor in Qatar before his arrest.
The CIA declined to comment Monday, but one U.S. official said, "Whoever this young American is, he is obviously under duress and in the hands of an enemy. His safety is paramount."