An Iranian student was acquitted by a federal jury today of attempting to smuggle three high powered rifles and ammunition aboard a plane bound for Iran two weeks after Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
The jury was told by the defense that the case was a "tempest in a teapot" that would not have been prosecuted if the defendant, Seyed Abrahim Mosavi, 27, were not Iranian. The jurors deliberated for about seven hours before returning their verdict.
Four of Mosavi's friends, also accused in the case, decided last week against risking a trial and struck plea agreements with prosecutors in which they agreed to leave the United States.
The Iranian students were taken into custody at Baltimore-Washington International Airport Nov. 15 and investigators found the guns and ammunition in the luggage of one of them who was about to return to Iran.
The Iranians had been under surveillance by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms since Nov. 6, two days after the embassy takeover, when Masavi and his cousin Bagher Moomeney, went shopping for rifles at a local gun shop.
"All of us, when we were arrested, we did not feel guilty," Mosavi said after the verdict of acquittal. "We knew it was because of the situation between the United States government and Iran.It was the only reason we were arrested." Mosavi maintained that the guns were purchased for their families to use hunting game in the mountains near their homes in Iran.
Moomeney and Friedoon Rostami, both 28, pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of firearms on a common carrier without written notice. Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Blake agreed to drop other gun smuggling charges and recommend no jail term if the two agreed to leave the country.
Similarly, Blake had charges against Mohammod R. Toolabi, 25, dismissed when he agreed to leave. Sirous Salahvarzi, 29, pleaded guilty to a charge of possessing opium and agreed to leave in exchange for dismissal of gun charges.
Rostami said he understood what his guilty plea meant, but "I wasn't guilty at all. I was afraid of the situation between America and Iran, that I wouldn't find a fair trial."
Rostami's attorney, Andrew Radding, said he thinks the students wouldn't have been arrested "but for the situation. I don't think the government acted illegally. But I believe the question of morality comes up."
Blake, the prosecutor, said, "If I could comment, I would."