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US Muslim group asks Iran government for clemency for Iranian-American sentenced to death
DETROIT (AP) ' An American Muslim group appealed Tuesday to Iran's supreme leader to show clemency for an ex-U.S. military translator with dual citizenship condemned to death on accusations of being a CIA spy.
A letter Tuesday from the Council on American-Islamic Relations asks Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to spare the life of Amir Hekmati.
The 28-year-old ex-Marine was born in Arizona and attended high school in Michigan. His Iran-born father is a professor at Mott Community College in Flint and has said his son is not a spy. Hekmati's family has said he was in Iran to visit his grandmothers.
"It is our hope that the Iranian government will offer the same mercy and compassion to Mr. Hekmati as it recently offered to other Americans charged with similar offenses, including an Iranian-American journalist and three American hikers," the council's Michigan executive director, Dawud Walid, wrote in the letter to Khamanei.
"We respectfully request that you spare the life of ... Hekmati, grant him clemency and facilitate his immediate release, allowing him to return home and reunite with his family," the letter said.
Walid said members of his group will travel to Iran if that would help obtain freedom for Hekmati.
"We're hopeful that Mr. Hekmati will be granted some clemency," Walid said. "If the Iranians are willing to talk regarding releasing Mr. Hekmati, then we're willing to fly to Tehran if need be."
Iranian authorities said that Hekmati received special training and served 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.
The U.S. 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 Marine Corps said Hekmati served between 2001 and 2005, including a deployment to Iraq in 2004 and a stint at the military language institute in Monterey, Calif.
In an alleged confession broadcast on Iranian state TV last month, Hekmati said he entered the armed forces after finishing high school in 2001 and received military and intelligence training including serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. He said his key responsibility was to identify Iraqi politicians sympathetic to Americans.
He said he had also worked for the military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and for Kuma Games, which he described to state TV as "a computer games company which received money from CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion's mindset in the Middle East and distribute them among Middle East residents free of charge."
The espionage charges against Hekmati are similar to previous prosecutions against Americans who were sentenced to jail time and later freed, including an Iranian-American journalist in 2009 and three U.S. citizens detained along the Iraq border. Iranian prosecutors, however, had stressed Hekmati's links to the U.S. military in calling for capital punishment.
Associated Press writer Jeff Karoub contributed to this story.