An Iranian-American from Michigan who appeared on Iran's state TV is not a CIA spy as authorities in that country claim and was visiting relatives when he was detained, his father said Monday.
Iran's state TV broadcast video Sunday of 28-year-old Amir Mirzaei Hekmati and said he was a CIA spy who sought to infiltrate Iran's secret services. The TV said he had received special training and served at U.S. military bases before heading to Iran.
But Ali Hekmati told The Associated Press Monday that his son was visiting his grandmothers in Tehran when he was detained and never worked for the CIA.
"He is not a spy. It's a whole bunch of lies on my good son," said Ali Hekmati, a microbiology professor at Mott Community College in Flint, about 50 northwest of Detroit. "They have lied about any American ... captured in Iran for visiting or tourism, or for any other reason."
The CIA declined to comment, as did State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Iran and the U.S. are locked in a complicated intelligence and technological battle, and the video of Hekmati comes weeks after Iran first displayed a nearly intact American spy drone that it claims it captured and brought down. U.S. officials say the unmanned aircraft malfunctioned and has demanded Iran return the top-secret aircraft. Iran has refused.
Ali Hekmati said his son was a former Arabic translator in the U.S. Marines who entered Iran about four months ago. At the time, he was working in Qatar as a contractor for a company "that served the Marines," his father said, without providing more specific details.
"My wife tried to talk him out of it," Ali Hekmati said of the visit to Iran. "The first two weeks went without incident. The third week in Tehran, some people visited him and took him away. Nobody heard from him in the next three months."
He later saw on a YouTube broadcast of an Iranian program that said Amir was "locked up" and accused of "being a spy for the CIA."
"I have no idea what they are going to do with my son," he said. "I'm worried to death. I love my son. I'm very sorry he's in the predicament he's in." He said he's working with attorneys in Tehran to gain his son's release.
Amir Hekmati was born in Flagstaff, Ariz., and graduated from Central High School in Flint. From there, his son joined the Marines, the 61-year-old Ali Hekmati said.
He declined to give the name of the company or say what type of work it performed, but Ali Hekmati said Amir — as a former Marine — "was fitting into the job perfectly."
From March to August 2010, the younger Hekmati worked for BAE Systems, said company spokesman Brian Roehrkasse. He said Hekmati left the company to take a position with the U.S. government as a civilian employee, but he did not have additional details.
Iran periodically announces the capture or execution of alleged U.S. or Israeli spies, and often no further information is released.
Earlier this month, the family of a retired FBI agent who vanished in Iran in March 2007 released a video in which he makes a plea to his kidnappers. The U.S. government has said it has no evidence of who is holding him, and Iran has denied involvement.
In September, Iran released two Americans that were held in a Tehran prison for more than two years after they were arrested, along with another American who was released in 2010, along the Iraq-Iran border. Iranian officials accused the three of spying for the U.S., but they say they were innocent and had gotten lost while hiking.
Tehran and Washington cut diplomatic relations in the aftermath of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Relations are strained over Tehran's disputed nuclear program and ambitions to widen military and political influence in the Middle East. While the U.S. and other countries suspect Iran is engaged in a clandestine effort to build nuclear weapons, Tehran insists that it is interested only in the peaceful uses of atomic energy.
Associated Press Writer Adam Goldman in Washington contributed to this report.