U.S. sailors captured by Iran were held at gunpoint: U.S. military

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The 10 U.S. sailors who were briefly detained by the Iranian military last week were held at gunpoint and had a verbal exchange with Iranian personnel before they were released, the U.S. military said Monday.

An undated picture released by Iran's Revolutionary Guards website shows American sailors sitting in a unknown place in Iran. REUTERS/ via Reuters

Just two days after the United States and other world powers lifted sanctions on Iran, the military released its most comprehensive timeline to date of the events surrounding the sailors’ brief detainment.

In a news release, the military said the sailors also had two SIM cards pulled out of their satellite phones, but that there was no gunfire exchange.

There were no details on the verbal exchange the sailors had with the Iranians.

The U.S. sailors, who were aboard two patrol craft, were detained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on January 12 when they inadvertently entered Iranian territorial waters. They were released the next day after being held for about 15 hours.

The U.S. military said the Americans were intercepted after the diesel engine in one of their boats developed a mechanical problem, although it was unclear if the crew was aware of their precise location.

The sailors were released unharmed and are in good health.

Their prompt release came just days before world powers lifted crippling sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran’s implementation of a deal curbing its nuclear program.

The Obama administration has said their speedy release shows the power of diplomacy and the promise of its new engagement with Iran.

Republicans, however, have been critical of the deal with Iran, and some say the detainment of the sailors shows how little regard Iran has for America.

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has been among some of the vocal critics. On Fox News Sunday, Cruz said the only reason the sailors were seized was because of the “weakness of Barack Obama.”

In a speech at Liberty University on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump also lambasted the administration over the incident with the sailors.

“Those young people were on their hands and knees in a begging position with their hands up and thugs behind them with guns, and then we talk like it’s OK. It’s not OK. It’s lack of respect.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said on CNN that once he heard about the sailors’ detention, he was “very frustrated and angry”, and that “I raised it immediately with the Iranians.”

He declined to give the content of his conversation, but added: “Suffice it to say that I made it crystal clear how serious this was. It was imperative to get it resolved.”

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Ian Simpson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski