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US frees Iranian scientist after more than year in custody, Oman says

Matthew David Kohn / AP

Mojtaba Atarodi will reportedly return to Iran on Saturday.

MUSCAT, Oman -- An Iranian scientist held for more than a year in California on charges of violating U.S. sanctions arrived in Muscat on Friday, after being freed in what the Omani foreign ministry said was a humanitarian gesture.

Mojtaba Atarodi, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Sharif University of Technology, had been detained for allegedly buying high-tech U.S. laboratory equipment, according to previous Iranian media reports.

The U.S. sanctions are linked to Tehran's disputed nuclear program, which it says is for peaceful purposes only but Washington says is aimed at manufacturing a nuclear weapon.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said Atarodi would return home on Saturday.

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

Authorities in the Sultanate had worked with U.S. officials to speed up Atarodi's case and return him home, the Omani foreign ministry said in a statement carried by local media. It said Oman would provide medical attention for Atarodi until his return to Iran, giving no further details.

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

Now that they're safe on U.S. soil, two American hikers freed from an Iranian prison last week talk about their captivity in Iran. NBC's Ron Allen reports.

Iran and the United States severed relations after the overthrow of Iran's pro-Western monarchy in 1979.

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

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were 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, Sarah Shourd, was freed in September 2010, also by way of Oman.

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