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Iranian scientist freed by U.S. returns home

An Iranian scientist held for more than a year in California on charges of violating U.S. sanctions arrived in Iran on Saturday, Iranian media reported, after being freed in what the Omani foreign ministry said was a humanitarian gesture. Mojtaba Atarodi, 55, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Iran's Sharif University of Technology, had been detained on allegedly buying high-tech U.S. laboratory equipment, previous Iranian media reports said.

Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency said Atarodi arrived in Tehran on Saturday, after a stopover in Muscat on Friday.

Upon arriving at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport on Saturday, Atarodi told reporters that he had tried to buy simple equipment for his personal lab to conduct academic research when he was detained by U.S. authorities, according to state-run Press TV.

There was no immediate U.S. comment on Atarodi's case.

Oman, a U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state which also enjoys good relations with Tehran, has previously helped mediate the release of Western prisoners held by the Islamic Republic.

Omani authorities had worked with U.S. officials to speed up Atarodi's case and return him home, the foreign ministry in Muscat said in a statement carried by local media.

He was released after follow-up approaches by Iran's foreign ministry, its spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA).

In a report on its website dated Jan. 7, 2012, Press TV said Atarodi was taken into custody on his arrival in Los Angeles on Dec. 7, 2011, accused of buying advanced lab equipment.

In 2011, Iran freed into Omani custody two U.S. citizens who had been sentenced to eight years in jail for spying.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, among three people arrested while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border in 2009, were flown to Oman after officials there helped secure their release by posting bail of $1 million. They denied being spies.

The third detainee, Sarah Shourd, had been freed in September 2010, also by way of Oman.

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