Have you seen this man? If so, please ask him to make up his mind.
Shahram Amiri, a 32-year-old Iranian nuclear scientist, is at the center of an episode of United States-Iran intrigue that just got weirder, thanks to YouTube. Amiri disappeared during his pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year, and anonymous U.S. officials confirmed that he defected, presumably bringing information about Iran’s nuclear program. Now he—or someone purporting to be him—appears in two contradictory videos that claim he was either abducted and tortured by the United States or is living happily here and going about his studies.
The first video:
The dark-haired man, appearing unshaven and disheveled, said he was being held against his will in Tucson. “I was kidnapped in a joint operation by the American intelligence, CIA terror and kidnap teams, and Saudi Arabia’s Istikhbarat” spy service, the man said in a grainy video aired in Iran on Monday night. He said he had been drugged before being smuggled out of Saudi Arabia, adding that he had been subjected to “severe torture” and “psychological pressures” [Washington Post].
A very different Amiri showed up in a second video today. He, or someone like him, appears in a professionally shot video sitting in front of some parlor with a globe and a chess board, as if he wants to have a few minutes of our time to talk about life insurance.
As of this writing, the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Facebook page has nearly 83,000 likes and is rising steadily. Presumably, none of those fans are in the government of Pakistan, as the page prompted the conservative Muslim country to block first Facebook, but then also YouTube, parts of Wikipedia, and other Web sites—more than 450 in all.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) keeps itself busy scanning the Internet for material that it says would offend its population, the second-largest Muslim population of any country. Two years ago it temporarily banned YouTube until the site removed cartoons of Mohammed. Typically the PTA bans particular links, but this week it complained that the amount of objectionable material on Web was increasing and decided to cut off it citizens from some of the biggest sites on the Web. The ban is said to run through the end of May, giving Web sites the chance to remove offending materials if they choose.
Social networking sites are extremely popular in Pakistan, a country of 170 million, where more than 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25. Pakistan has about 25 million Internet users, almost all of them young, according to Adnan Rehmat, a media analyst in Islamabad [The New York Times].