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Hekmati: ‘Happy to finally be home’ from Iran prison

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Flint — Amir Hekmati is home.

The 32-year-old former Marine, who spent the past four and a half years in an Iranian prison, stepped off a plane at around 4:10 p.m. on Thursday at Flint Bishop International Airport.

“I’m happy to finally be home,” Hekmati told reporters gathered on the snowy tarmac. “It’s been a very long road.”

Hekmati was not expected to speak to the press, but as he did Tuesday in Germany, the Flint resident chose to talk. His mother, who was expected to greet him inside a private terminal, also could not wait. She stepped through the door to greet her son in the 27-degree weather.

“Very strong woman,” Hekmati said as they hugged.

Hekmati thanked God, President Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and “everyday Americans” who had worked for his release or supported him in prison.

“I’m standing here healthy, tall and with my head held high,” he said. “I’m glad to be here and appreciate everyone’s support.”

Hekmati had arrived on U.S. soil earlier Thursday after flying to an undisclosed location from Germany, where he and other three other prisoners freed Sunday were evaluated and treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

He flew to Flint with twin sister Leila, sister Sarah and her husband, Ramy Kurdi, who had joined him in Germany. Their children, Sami, 7, and Maya, 5, then boarded the plane with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who had long advocated for Hekmati’s release and met him for the first time Sunday in Germany.

Other family members greeted Hekmati in a private terminal. His father, who is battling brain cancer, was unable to join them but will soon see his son again.

While details of the homecoming were not widely publicized, several military veterans and supporters gathered at the airport, including members of the local Marine Corps League Flint Detachment.

As he left the airport, Hekmati saw the crowd, had his vehicle stopped and got out to hug supporters. He said to cheers: “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“He’s one of my comrades,” said Daniel Foster, a former Marine who drove down from Saginaw Township. “We just want to let him know that four years and however many days was too long. We’re glad to have him back here.”

Joanne Holmquist of Swartz Creek, who quietly dropped off a “Welcome Home” card with hopes that Kildee’s office could deliver it to Hekmati, said she was making good on a promise to Sarah Hekmati, who she met several years ago at a Veterans Day event.

“I talked to her there and told her I would pray for her and call as many people up as I could to get him home,” she said. “He’s an American, he’s a native son and, most of all, he’s a Marine.”

Hekmati, born in Arizona and raised in Michigan, was the longest-held American prisoner in Iran. He had been in prison for more than 1,600 days following his arrest on Aug. 29, 2011.

He had been arrested while visiting his grandmother in Iran and accused of spying, a charge U.S. officials have repeatedly denied. His initial death sentence was tossed, and in 2014 he was resentenced to 10 years in prison on a lesser charge.

Hekmati was one of four Americans freed in a prisoner exchange finalized Saturday by the United States and Iran. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi were also released.

Obama discussed the prisoner exchange on Sunday — one day after he signed executive orders lifting some economic sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear deal brokered last year. The International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had met its obligations under that deal, which requires curbs on its nuclear program.