Boise & Garden City

Saeed Abedini, pastor held in Iran, has returned to Boise

Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned for nearly four years in Iran, flew back to Boise late Tuesday afternoon, his wife, Naghmeh Abedini, confirmed.

“He landed. Saw the kids,” Naghmeh texted the Statesman shortly before 7 p.m. “We are asking for privacy to work through personal stuff.”

He was originally scheduled to see Naghmeh and their two children on Monday at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, N.C., but a spokesman for the Rev. Franklin Graham, who operates the center, said Tuesday morning that plans had changed.

“It now looks like they’re going to actually reconnect in Boise and not in North Carolina,” spokesman Mark DeMoss told the Statesman early Tuesday. “My understanding is that Saeed, his parents and his sister are going to go to Boise.”

Abedini, 35, spent the past five days with his parents and sister at the secluded North Carolina retreat.

KBOI-TV reported that Abedini arrived in Boise on a private jet at 4:40 p.m. Tuesday.

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the 1998 Dassault Falcon 900 is registered to the Emmanuel Group. That company is a title holding company for Samaritan’s Purse, a nonprofit Christian organization that provides humanitarian aid around the world.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, who arranged for Abedini to stay at the center named for Graham’s father, is CEO of Samaritan’s Purse.

The same jet brought Abedini to North Carolina following his treatment at a U.S. Army hospital in Germany after his release in Iran.

Abedini was released Jan. 16 along with Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, apparently a former FBI consultant. A fifth American, language student Matt Trevithick, 30, was also released but was not part of an exchange deal for U.S. clemency offered to seven Iranians charged or imprisoned for sanctions violations and the dismissal of charges against 14 Iranians outside the United States.

Graham took up Saeed’s cause in mid-2013 after Naghmeh reached out to him, DeMoss said. He later joined her during a 2014 prayer vigil outside the White House and advocated for Saeed’s release.

“Franklin has just tried to be a good friend and offer support, draw attention to the case, encourage people to pray for Saeed while he was in prison and praying for his family,” DeMoss said.

DeMoss, who works out of Atlanta, said he drove the 185 miles to Asheville on Saturday and saw Saeed during a meeting with Graham.

“He appeared strong and well-composed,” DeMoss said.

He said Saeed also showed a sense of humor while clearing snow. “He was shoveling a little bit and joked about being on a work-release program,” DeMoss said.

Saeed described some of his experiences in Iran on Monday in an interview with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren. He told of being denied clothing and reading material while in solitary confinement, and of being beaten and tortured. He also described being held for two months with Hekmati, saying he was “very heartbroken” to see how the former Marine was being treated.

Kristin Rodine contributed.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell