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Hajj pilgrim arrested by Saudi Arabia returns to Iran

Khalil Dardmand’s release some three months after his arrest comes after mediation efforts by Oman and Iraq.

Tehran, Iran – An Iranian citizen who was arrested about three months ago by Saudi Arabian authorities during the Hajj pilgrimage has returned to Iran.

Local media confirmed on Wednesday the arrival of Khalil Dardmand on Monday via “the airway from a neighboring country in the Persian Gulf.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian had previously said that his counterparts in Oman and Iraq mediated efforts to free the Iranian national.

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Dardmand was allegedly arrested after posting on his Twitter account an image of slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani next to the Kaaba, the building at the center of the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca.

Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and the architect of Iran’s regional security apparatus, was killed by the United States on January 3, 2020 in a drone strike in Iraq’s capital Baghdad.

Local Iranian media said Dardmand met on Wednesday with Abdul Fattah Nawab, the Iranian supreme leader’s representative on Hajj affairs, and Sadegh Hosseini, head of the country’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, during which he said Saudi authorities Saudi tried to accuse him of “false charges”. ”.

The pilgrim’s family told state-affiliated media earlier this week that they had not spoken to him or known where he was jailed until shortly before his release was secured.

Dardmand’s arrest created new tensions between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, which severed diplomatic ties in 2016 after mobs attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran in reaction to the Sunni-majority kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. .

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The two have held five rounds of direct talks mediated by Iraq since April 2021, and a sixth round has been in the works for months.

So far, the talks have been held at the level of security officials. It is unclear whether the next round will involve foreign ministers with the aim of reopening embassies and reestablishing formal ties.

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