More than 250 young Iranians, from a group committed to toppling Iran's leaders, are back in Tehran.
Clutching flowers, chewing fingernails, and nervously holding their faces in their hands, 31 Iranian families awaited a reunion they thought would never come. They were reuniting with sons who had joined anti-Iran militants, officially tagged "terrorists" by both the US and Iran.
The journey of one of those sons, Hamid Khalkali, is typical: He went to Turkey five years ago for work, but ended up at a military training camp in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. He was recruited by the Mujahideen-e Khalq, the "People's Holy Warriors," or MKO, Iran's largest opposition group, which aims to overthrow the government. It was supported for two decades by Mr. Hussein.
But now Mr. Khalkali is being officially welcomed home. He's one of more than 250 former combatants who have returned home since December - among the first to test Iran's offer of amnesty. Even as hawks in Washington debate tapping the group to help engineer regime change in Iran, a growing disillusionment within the MKO, coupled with a new Shiite- dominated government in Iraq that has little sympathy for it, has thinned the ranks of this once-feared militant group.
Hamid's mother, Mahin Amouie, thought her son was dead. But her grief turned to cautious joy last week when the telephone rang. Giving little information, the caller said: "We want to give you good news - come and get your son."
Until Ms. Amouie arrived at a small amphitheater in Tehran, bearing flowers and talking to other disbelieving families, she says she had no idea that Hamid had joined the MKO. Climbing onto the stage when her name was called, her emotional dam burst when Hamid strode into view. Tears streaming, Amouie collapsed into her son's arms, a scene repeated again and again.
"Oh Lord, I sacrifice myself for you!" Amouie sobbed to Hamid, crushing the armful of flowers as she wrapped herself tight around his neck. "Where have you been? Where have you been?"