Freed after five years in an Iranian jail on spying charges, British businessman Roger Cooper arrived home in London Tuesday amid renewed hope his homecoming could lead to the release of Western hostages in Lebanon.
Appearing tired but composed, the 55-year-old businessman stepped off a British Airways flight at Heathrow Airport where he was greeted by his family. He told reporters his release, kept secret until he left Tehran, had been a surprise for him."I only knew late last night toward midnight that I was going to be freed," the 55-year-old businessman said. "Even then I didn't know I was going to England until I was being taken I thought to the embassy, and I suddenly noticed we were heading out toward the airport. So, I am perhaps in a state of shock."
Cooper's release, which was welcomed by the British government, was seen as another step toward normalizing relations between Britain and Iran and raised hopes that pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon would free their Western hostages.
"It is a wonderful sign that Roger has been released, and we believe that it will pave the way for eventually the release of our loved ones and the other hostages," said John Waite, cousin of Terry Waite, the Church of England envoy who disappeared Jan. 20, 1987, in Beirut while trying to secure the release of hostages.
Cooper was arrested in Iran for overstaying his visa on Dec. 7, 1985, while working as a consultant to an American oil-drilling company. He was accused of being a spy and held in the maximum security Evin prison. Cooper denied the charges but never stood trial.
The only official Iranian comment was a two-paragraph story on the Islamic Republic News Agency, saying the "British spy Roger Cooper" had been set free and expelled from the country after serving his prison term. It said he served over five years in jail "after being found guilty of espionage."
Cooper, neatly dressed in a suit and tie, said he could understand how the Iranians might suspect him of spying because he fit the profile.
"The Iranians unfortunately do have a paranoia, not entirely unjustified, that the British and other Western nations, particularly the Americans, are apt to spy on them, and so perhaps in this sort of spy mania . . . I fitted the bill for that," he told a news conference.