Lebanese citizen and permanent USA resident Nizar Zakka, who was imprisoned for years in Iran, has been freed and is on his way back to his native Lebanon, officials confirmed.
The IT expert was on a plane en route to Beirut, accompanied by Gen. Ibrahim Abbas, chief of Lebanon's General Security Directorate, an official in the Lebanese capital said on condition of anonymity.
The White House says it is "thankful" for the release of a US permanent resident from Iranian custody, but wants to see other Americans who are detained there released as well.
In 2016, The Associated Press reported that Zakka's supporters wrote to then-Secretary of State John Kerry, stating Zakka traveled to Iran "with the knowledge and approval of the U.S. State Department, and his trip was funded by grants" from it. Iranian media has described him as a US spy. Both the Congress and the Senate passed resolutions in 2017 calling for the unconditional release of United States citizens and residents detained in Iran, including the Lebanese national.
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"Zakka was released following President Aoun's letter to (Iranian) President Hassan Rouhani", Ibrahim said.
"After more than 1,350 days in captivity in Iran, we have received excellent news: Mr. Nizar Zakka is a free man", his Washington-based lawyer, Jason Poblete, said in a statement. The development comes at a time of increased tension between the U.S. and Tehran, though NBC News notes that it's unclear whether this might lead to the release of Americans and other foreigners held by Iran.
A top Lebanese security official is in Tehran to secure Zakka's release, which has been anticipated.
He was arrested on the way to the airport and later sentenced to 10 years behind bars on espionage charges in a closed-door trial.
Zakka has been imprisoned in Iran since 2015. "We did all we could to stop this from happening, but we are seeing that we have failed to make a significant impact".