The U.S. Marine recently freed from an Iranian prison arrived home in Michigan Thursday, stepping off a small plane to a burst of applause from relatives and supporters.
"I’m happy to finally be home," Amir Hekmati said after landing in Flint. "It's been a very long road. A very long journey."
It was Hekmati's first time in Michigan since he left for Iran in 2011 to visit an ailing grandmother. He was accused of spying and sentenced to death in January 2012, but the Iranian Supreme Court overturned the sentence. He was awaiting a second trial while his family worked to get him released.
Hekmati, 32, was sprung Saturday as part of a prisoner exchange along with Christian minister Saeed Abedini, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, and another American, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. Before his flight home, he spent a few days recuperating at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
His two sisters and a brother-in-law accompanied him on the flight to Flint. He appeared pale and weary when he stepped onto the tarmac after relatives, including a young nephew and niece, climbed into the plane to welcome him.
Hekmati spoke briefly to reporters, thanking President Obama, his local congressman and "everyday Americans" who pressed for his release.
"I"m standing here healthy, tall, my head held high," he said.
Officials said Hekmati spent long periods in solitary and was subjected to sleep deprivation in Iran. He has said his military training helped him survive "inhumane conditions."
"I didn't want to let my fellow Marines down, and the reputation of the Marine Corps, so I tried my best to keep my head up and withstand all the pressure that were put upon me," he said during his stopover in Germany.
Although he didn't say much at the Flint airport, Hekmati said he'd talk more about his ordeal in the near future.
Abedini returned to the U.S. Thursday and will spend some time resting and visiting with his family at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina, the center said in a statement. He and his family have asked for privacy, the center said.
"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 and the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, said.