Michael White: American detainee freed after two years in Iranian prison | US News

A US Navy veteran detained in Iran for nearly two years has been freed, his family and American officials have said.

Michael White was released from an Iranian prison in mid-March but held in Iran under Swiss custody on medical furlough as the coronavirus outbreak swept the country’s prisons.

Due to a number of health conditions, Mr White’s family feared for his life in the prison system.

Mr White is travelling back to the US

He is now travelling home, with the first leg of his journey on a Swiss government aircraft.

Switzerland looks after US interests with Tehran because America and Iran lack diplomatic relations.

“I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely in American custody and on his way home,” his mother, Joanne, said in a statement.

President Donald Trump said Mr White would be back with his family “very soon”.

“I will never stop working to secure the release of all Americans held hostage overseas! Thank you Switzerland for your great assistance,” he said.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been increasingly bitter after Mr Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions on Iran’s economy.

But both countries have called for the release of prisoners due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Donald Trump speaks about US relations with China, at the White House
Donald Trump has hailed the US detainee’s release

The United States has the highest number of deaths and infections from the virus worldwide, while Iran is the worst-hit country in the Middle East.

Speaking to Fox News, a White House spokesperson said Mr White’s release could hopefully lead to an opening between the two nations.

On Tuesday, Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari was flown back to Iran from the US – but officials from both Iran and the US have denied this was part of a swap with Mr White or anyone else.

Mr White, from Imperial Beach in California, was detained by Iranian authorities in July 2018 while visiting a woman he had met online and fallen in love with.

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He was sentenced to a decade in prison after being convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.

The Trump administration has said it considers the release of American hostages and detainees to be a priority, and recently stepped up pressure on Iran.

It has also called for the release of other Americans including Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz.

In December, Iran released Chinese-American scholar Xiyue Wang, who was held for three years on widely-disputed espionage charges, in exchange for detained Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani.

On Saturday, British-Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told there would be another delay on a decision over her freedom from a Tehran jail.

The mother-of-one has been out of prison on furlough since mid-March.

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British-Australian academic has repeatedly attempted suicide in Iranian jail: rights group

(Reuters) – British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has repeatedly attempted suicide while detained in Iran, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group, said on Thursday.

Moore-Gilbert, a specialist in Middle East politics at the University of Melbourne, has been detained in Iran since September, 2018, the statement said.

British and Australian media have reported that she has been sentenced to 10 years in jail by Iranian authorities.

The Iranian judiciary could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Kylie’s cries for help are so loud and desperate that even the walls of one of Iran’s most notorious prisons can’t silence them,” CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi said in a statement.

“The Australian government should heed her pleas and immediately facilitate her access to basic rights that the Iranian government has been denying her for nearly two years, and immediately get her back home where she belongs.”

Moore-Gilbert is being held in solitary confinement in a two to three meter cell with a toilet in the Evin prison in Tehran, Reza Khandan, an activist and husband of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an activist lawyer currently imprisoned in Iran, told CHRI.

Moore-Gilbert is forced to wear a blindfold anytime she is taken out of the cell, Khandan told CHRI.

Iran has stepped up detentions of foreign and dual nationals amid a protracted standoff with Western powers, after the United States withdrew from an international agreement to curb Iranian nuclear activities and reimposed sanctions on Tehran in 2018.

Separately, journalist and film maker Mohammad Nourizad attempted suicide in a prison in Mashhad, his wife Fatemeh Maleki said in an interview with BBC Persian on May 2.

Nourizad was under pressure because authorities would not give him furlough, transfer him to a prison closer to his home or allow him regular phone calls, Maleki said in the interview.

Nourizad was imprisoned last year for signing an open letter, along with 13 others, calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, to resign.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Giles Elgood

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Trump tweets he’s ordered Navy to destroy Iranian gunboats

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid tensions with Iran, President Donald Trump said Wednesday on Twitter he has given orders for the Navy to “shoot down and destroy” any Iranian gunboats found to be harassing U.S. ships.

A U.S. Navy video last week showed small Iranian fast boats coming close to American warships as they operated in the northern Persian Gulf near Kuwait, with U.S. Army Apache helicopters.

“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump tweeted.

Trump did not cite a specific event in his tweet, or provide details. The White House had no immediate comment.

The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet referred questions about the tweet to the Pentagon, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s tweet came after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it had put the Islamic Republic’s first military satellite into orbit, dramatically unveiling what experts described as a secret space program with a surprise launch Wednesday that came amid wider tensions with the United States.

The launched immediately raised concerns among experts on whether the technology used could help Iran develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

On Sunday, the Revolutionary Guard acknowledged it had a tense encounter last week with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, but alleged without offering evidence that American forces sparked the incident.

The Guard and the Navy routinely have tense encounters in the Persian Gulf and its narrow mouth, the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all oil passes.


Jon Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Trump instructs U.S. Navy to destroy Iranian gunboats ‘if they harass our ships at sea’

FILE PHOTO: Four Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels, some of several to maneuver in what the U.S. Navy says are “unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. Military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range” is seen next to the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton in the Gulf April 15, 2020. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

April 22, 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had instructed the U.S. Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea, a week after 11 vessels from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) came dangerously close to U.S. ships in the Gulf.

“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump wrote in a tweet, hours after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said it had launched the country’s first military satellite into orbit.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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Squadron commander at base Iranian missiles hit feared all would die

  • The US Air Force recently released a series of first-person accounts written by airmen who were at Al Asad Air Base when it was hit by Iranian ballistic missiles in January.
  • In one account from Commander of the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron Lt. Col. Staci Coleman, she reveals that she thought everyone that was forced to remain behind would die.
  • “I honestly thought anyone remaining behind would perish. I didn’t believe anyone would survive a ballistic missile attack and it made me feel sick and helpless,” she wrote.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After learning Iran was preparing to fire a barrage of ballistic missiles at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq in early January, Commander of the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron Lt. Col. Staci Coleman was certain everyone on base would die in the attack, she revealed in an account of the event.

Late on Jan. 7, as tensions between the US and Iran were running high following the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike, Coleman was alerted that Iran planned to attack the base.

She made the decision to evacuate half of the 160 troops in her charge. The other half would remain on base to operate and secure the airfield. “I was being forced to gamble with my member’s lives,” she wrote in an account released by US Air Forces Central Command.

“I was deciding who would live and would die,” Coleman wrote, adding, “I honestly thought anyone remaining behind would perish. I didn’t believe anyone would survive a ballistic missile attack and it made me feel sick and helpless.”

She revealed that she said a prayer for her team, asking God to protect them. “I resolved to place the fate of my team in His hands and I refocused my attention on executing the plan,” she wrote.

As those that remained behind prepared the bunkers, Coleman took a moment to reach out to her family “to say one final ‘I love you.'”

Lt. Col. Staci Coleman

US Air Force

Maj. Jonathan Jordan, director of operations for the 443, had been tasked by the commander to lead the evacuating force.

“I tried to reassure my troops, crack jokes, and talk through their anger of not being with those left behind,” he wrote in a separate account of that evening. “I chose not to tell them we were the ‘broken glass’ plan.”

“I couldn’t tell them that I was getting my mind around the fact we might have to identify bodies and lay our friends to rest,” he said.

Early in the morning on January 8, the Iranian military launched around a dozen ballistic missiles at Al Asad Air Base in retaliation for Soleimani’s death.

“The first wave of missiles hit, and the ground shook with a force impossible to put into words,” Coleman said of the attack. “The blast waves could be felt throughout the entire body.”

“There was no doubt I made the right decision to evacuate half my team,” she said, “but I feared those left behind might not live through the night.”

“Dirt particles sprayed through the openings of the bunker,” an airman who was in a bunker as the missiles fell wrote. “I was gifted a cross earlier that day, so I held it tightly, prayed quietly and thought of my parents, my kids, my family, everyone. I wasn’t ready to die, but I tried to prepare myself with every announcement of an incoming missile. I had to. We all had to.”

Coleman wrote that after about the third wave, “she became convinced that we could walk out alive as long as the bunker didn’t take a direct hit.” She feared for the security forces outside, as well as those other bunkers though.

In what Coleman and others have described as a “miracle,” no one was killed in the attack. In the weeks following the Iranian attack, more than 100 US service members would be diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injuries.

It is unclear how many of those injured in the attack are still receiving treatment.

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Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s furlough from Iranian prison extended

LONDON (AP) — British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s temporary release from an Iranian jail has been extended by a month amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, her local lawmaker said Tuesday.

Tulip Siddiq, who has campaigned for the prisoner’s release, tweeted that she had heard from Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, that the furlough from Evin prison had been extended for a month.

“Now is the time for our government to do all it can to make it permanent,” Siddiq said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been due to return to prison from her family’s home over the weekend to continue serving a five-year sentence. Iran accuses her of plotting to overthrow the government.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested during a holiday with her toddler daughter in April 2016. Her family says she was in Iran to visit family, denying that she was plotting against Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

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