After being held for more than four years in an Iranian prison, Amir Hekmati, the former U.S. Marine from Flint, is home. The Flint man was part of a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran. Hekmati was arrested in Iran in 2011 while he was visiting his grandmother. He was charged with spying. At one time, he was sentenced to death. His sentence was eventually changed to 10 years. Hekmati and a handful of other Americans were exchanged for seven Iranians held in the U.S. The Iranians were charged with violating a trade embargo.
We updated this post as he traveled home. You can scroll below and read up to follow the events.
Update Thursday, 5:15 p.m. – Hekmati is home
Amir Hekmati has reached the end of what he calls “a very long journey.” The Marine veteran spent four years in an Iranian prison. He was released Sunday as part of a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran.
Hekmati was greeted with cheers as he stepped off a plane at Bishop Airport in Flint.
“It’s great to be back in Flint, my hometown. I love this city. I love it’s people. They have been so good to me and my family, and we’re very grateful.”
His extended family was at the airport to greet him. Terri Martin was among the local well-wishers.
“I just want to say welcome home, and thank you to someone who’s been through so much,” said Martin. “Something we can’t even imagine. I just want to say welcome home.”
Pat Lozano, with the local American Legion, was also there to greet Hekmati.
“We just support all of our veterans very strongly, but especially those who have been serving on the front lines,” said Lozano. “He’s done it twice.”
Since his release Sunday, Hekmati has thanked all those who have worked to win his freedom.
After briefly talking to the news media, Hekmati was taken to a nearby hangar for a private reunion with members of his family.
Amir Hekmati should be touching down in Michigan soon. Reporters, including our own Steve Carmody, are there to watch his family and friends greet him.
— Free Amir Hekmati (@FreeAmirHekmati) January 20, 2016
— Dave Spencer (@NewsDSpencerFox) January 21, 2016
— Guy Gordon (@newsGuy4) January 21, 2016
Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2:00 p.m.
Amir Hekmati appeared on CNN alongside Congressman Dan Kildee. He told the news agency his freedom is "like being born again."
"I feel extremely lucky, alive, for the first time in a long time, and very humbled at everybody's support, from the president to Congress to my fellow Marines, and especially my family who've really gone through so much throughout this time," he told reporters outside Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a U.S. military hospital, before a trip to Michigan.
Watch the video here.
Amir Hekmati is expected to remain at a hospital in Germany for at least a few more days.
After the release, Hekmati was flown to Germany where he has been undergoing medical tests. He was reunited with members of his family on Monday.
Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan accompanied members of the Hekmati family to Germany. He spent the past few days with Amir Hekmati, and says Hekmati is still getting used to life after serving more than four years in an Iranian prison.
“Right now he’s just really focused on getting his feet underneath him and coming back home. [Amir Hekmati is] taking time to get resettled before making any big life decisions,” says Kildee.
Kildee says Amir Hekmati’s health appears affected by his experience, though he adds Hekmati is “optimistic” about his future.
The Hekmati family has waged a high-profile campaign to keep his case in the news and pressure governments for his release. Amir Hekmati has been surprised to hear that thousands of people have been part of a campaign to free him.
Monday, Jan. 19, 1:30 p.m.
Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan met with Amir Hekmati and Hekmati's family this afternoon at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Kildee's office says this is the first time the family has met with Amir.
Here are photos of the visit (scroll below).
Kildee's office said they spent approximately 15 minutes together today.
Sunday, Jan. 17, 5:22 p.m.:
The Americans released by Iran have arrived in Germany, according to a U.S. State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss their status.
Among them is Amir Hekmati, the former U.S. Marine from Flint who has been held by the Iranian government for more than four years.
No other details were immediately available about how long they would remain in Germany and when they might return to the U.S.
U.S. officials had said Saturday that the released prisoners would be taken to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for medical treatment. The hospital is near the U.S. military's Ramstein Air Base.
Earlier today, Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan watched as President Obama spoke about the prisoner swap that exchanged five Americans held in Iranian prisons for seven Iranians held in U.S. jails.
Kildee has spent much of the weekend with Amir Hekmati’s family.
He says when word finally came that the Amir’s plane had left Iran the family finally felt “relief”.
“A lot of tears,” Kildee said of the moment. “They’re just anxious to get on that airplane ... it’s going to be a long flight to Germany.”
Kildee is flying with several members of the Hekmati family from Detroit to Germany this evening. They hope to reunite with Amir tomorrow.
Hekmati's ailing father will not be making the trip. Ali Hekmati has suffered numerous health issues since his son’s detention started.
The prisoner exchange has been criticized by some who fear the Obama administration may have given up too much for little in return.
Congressman Kildee says the critics should say that to Amir Hekmati.
“This is a step forward not only for this family. This gets Amir home,” says Kildee. “But it also makes a point that responsible government means sometimes negotiating with people you have differences with.”
It’s unclear how long Amir Hekmati will need to stay at the American hospital in Germany before he can return home. His family believe his health suffered during his four plus years in an Iranian prison.
Sunday, Jan. 17, 8:08 a.m.:
The Associated Press reports the Swiss plane carrying Amir Hekmati and other Americans from Iran has landed in Geneva, Switzerland.
Amir Hekmati is coming home.
After spending more than four years in an Iranian prison, the former U.S. Marine from Flint, is now sitting on a plane flying to Europe. He’s part of a multi-layered prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Iran.
In addition to Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose name had not been previously made public, were freed from custody. A fifth American was released separately.
In exchange, the U.S. pardoned or dropped charges against seven Iranians – six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens – accused or convicted of violating U.S. sanctions.
Amir Hekmati’s family has spent the past four years working for his release. They issued a statement this morning after it was confirmed:
Today, our brother, son and friend Amir Hekmati has been released from Iran. We have now been officially told that he is on a plane leaving the country.
It is hard to put into words what our family feels right now. But we remain in hopeful anticipation until Amir is in our arms. As many of you know, Amir’s father is very ill and soon he will embrace his son once more.
We are incredibly grateful for today’s news. We thank our government, and we thank all of you whose thoughts and prayers helped us tremendously since Amir was taken from us in 2011.
Flint Congressman Dan Kildee has spent much of the past 24 hours with the Hekmati family. He also issued a statement a short time ago:
“Amir Hekmati is coming home. I am overcome with emotion that after four and a half years, this terrible ordeal is ending and the Hekmati family will soon be reunited with Amir. We have worked so hard to see this day happen. I am incredibly grateful to everyone, including my staff, who worked tirelessly to secure Amir’s release.
“I am grateful to President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the entire administration for never giving up on Amir and the other Americans that were held in Iran. Their tireless work should be commended."
Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are welcoming the release of Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini in the U.S.-Iran prisoner swap.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says the exchange shows "diplomacy can work even in this volatile region of the world."
Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and other Republicans say Americans should never have been captured in the first place. In Iowa, Rubio blamed the Obama administration's willingness to do prisoner swaps in the past, saying governments take Americans hostage because they believe they can gain concessions from the Obama administration.