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The Latest: Official: Lebanese freed by Iran now in Beirut

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BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in the case of a U.S. permanent resident released after being imprisoned for years in Iran (all times local):

6:20 p.m.

A U.S. permanent resident and Lebanese businessman who was released from Iran following several years imprisonment says he was subjected to “kidnapping, arbitrary detention and a show trial.”

In his first statements following his release, Nizar Zakka, an internet freedom advocate who was arrested in 2015, says he is more determined than ever to fight for freedom of expression.

Zakka’s release comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. after America’s withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. There has been speculation that his release is part of a wider deal between the U.S. and Iran.

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Zakka told reporters at the presidential palace Tuesday that the initiative to release him is a local one, made in Lebanon. But he acknowledged that it served to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran

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5:25 p.m.

A Lebanese airport official says a Lebanese businessman and U.S. resident freed by Iran has arrived in Beirut.

The official says Nizar Zakka has landed at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri airport aboard a private jet, accompanied by the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abbas, who traveled to Tehran to bring him home.

Zakka has been imprisoned in Iran on spying charges since 2015. He was released amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. after President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The White House says it is “thankful” for his release.

Zakka is expected to head from the airport to the presidential palace where he will be received by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who had personally requested his release.

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4:30 p.m.

The White House says it is “thankful” for the release of a U.S. permanent resident from Iranian custody, but wants to see other Americans who are detained there released as well.

Addressing the return of Nizar Zakka, who has been held in Iran since 2015 on charges of spying, to his native Lebanon, press secretary Sarah Sanders says, “We’re thankful for the release of the individual in Iran.”

She says “The big question is there’s several others and we want to see those people released as well.”

She is declining to say whether the U.S. government was involved in securing Zakka’s release.

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2 p.m.

A Lebanese official says a U.S. permanent resident imprisoned for years in Iran is free and on his way to Lebanon.

The official says Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman, is on a plane with the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate Gen. Ibrahim Abbas and heading to the Lebanese capital.

The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Zakka has been imprisoned in Iran since 2015. He is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or links to the West held in Iran. His release comes as tensions between Iran and the U.S. remain high after President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

—Bassem Mroue in Beirut;

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10:45 a.m.

An Iranian judiciary spokesman says Iran has agreed to hand over a U.S. permanent resident imprisoned for years to Lebanese officials.

The comment on Tuesday from Gholamhossein Esmaili is the first official confirmation that Nizar Zakka would be sent back to Lebanon, years after his internationally criticized spying conviction.

On Monday, state TV said Zakka was to be released “only because of the respect and dignity” Iran has for the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

A top Lebanese security official is in Tehran to secure Zakka’s release, which has been anticipated.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard detained Zakka in 2015 after he attended a conference in Tehran on the invitation of one of the country’s vice presidents. He was convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

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