Pastor, retired US Marine freed by Iran back in the US

Former Army helicopter pilot weighs in on the return of hostages


Two Americans freed in a prisoner swap with Iran arrived back on U.S. soil Thursday. 

Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor, was met by his parents and well-wishers in North Carolina, where he will spend time at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville. Abedini's wife, Nagmeh, has said that she and the couple's children will see him Monday.

"None of us in America can begin to understand or appreciate what Saeed has endured after being imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith," Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said. "We want to provide him a quiet place to rest and visit with family."

Abedini was imprisoned in 2012 on charges of setting up home churches in the Islamic theocracy. 

Earlier Thursday, former Marine Amir Hekmati, landed in his home state of Michigan, where he was greeted by a crowd of waiting reporters and well-wishers, including members of the American Legion.

After emerging from the plane, the retired U.S. Marine told the crowd it was “great to be back in Flint” and he’s standing with his head “held high.” He also expressed appreciation for the "many people" who "traveled this road with me."

"Despite all the difficulties, thank god, thank for everyones support," he said. 

Convicted by an Iranian court of spying and sentenced to death in 2012, Hekmati was later retried and given a 10-year sentence on a lesser charge. When asked about his 4 1/2 years in Iranian prison, Hekmati said "it wasn't good," but that his Marine training helped sustain him.

Abedini and Hekmati had been receiving treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany since late Sunday after arriving there from Iran via Switzerland. 

A third American, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, remains at the hospital. The fourth American who was part of the exchange, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, opted to remain in Iran, officials said.

A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was released separately and arrived in his home state of Massachusetts earlier this week. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.