Ahmadinejad asks US to free 'illegally' held Iranians
Washington: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked Washington to free eight Iranians who he said were "illegally arrested and detained”, in an interview to be aired on Sunday.
"It would not be misplaced to ask that the US government should take a humanitarian gesture to release the Iranians who were illegally arrested and detained here in the United States," Ahmadinejad said, according to excerpts of the interview released by ABC News.
The request came days after Iran freed 32-year-old US national Sarah Shourd after holding her and fellow hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal for more than a year.
All three were arrested on July 31, 2009 after straying into Iran from Iraq. The authorities had charged them with "spying and illegally entering the country”.
The Iranian President made the remarks after arriving in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
When asked if Iran would respond to an appeal by the mothers of the two remaining American hikers in Iranian custody, Ahmadinejad said their cases were in the hands of the judiciary.
"They violated the law," he said. "Do you want violators to be released? Is that what you're asking me?"
Ahmadinejad did not elaborate on the identity of the eight Iranians he said were being held by the United States.
But Iranian media reports have said the US is holding around a dozen Iranians in custody, with some detained in other countries at Washington's request.
Tehran says it is pursuing diplomatic means to obtain the release of nationals including a former deputy minister, Alireza Asgari, who went missing in Turkey three year ago.
Earlier this year, Washington allowed the return to Iran of researcher Shahram Amiri who surfaced in Washington after disappearing from Saudi Arabia last year during a pilgrimage.
Another Iranian, Omid Khalili, was charged in January with illegally exporting warplane parts to Iran after reportedly buying them from an undercover American agent, the US Department of Justice said.
Khalili was later arrested in March on arrival in Miami and pleaded guilty in a US District Court in Alabama.
Media reports have cited court documents as saying Khalili worked "actively with the Iranian government to procure military items”.