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Iran climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed without hijab, greeted by cheering crowd upon return to Tehran

Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed in an event in South Korea over the weekend without wearing a mandatory headscarf, was greeted at the airport in Tehran early Wednesday by cheering crowds chanting "Elnaz is a heroine," according to video posted on social media. There had been fears for her safety after reports of her friends being unable to reach her.

Iran is currently being rocked by widescale, women-led protests that began as demonstrations against the rules requiring women to cover their hair in public, but have evolved into wider calls for an end to the country's Islamic-cleric led regime. The unrest was sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by Iran's morality police in September for allegedly not wearing her headscarf correctly. 

Iranian officials say she died of a heart attack after being detained, but her family have told CBS News they believe she was tortured and then murdered in custody.

Many saw Rekabi's appearance in the climbing competition without a hijab as a show of support for the protests. Upon landing on Wednesday, she gave an interview to Iranian state media in which she repeated claims made in a text-only post that appeared the previous day on her Instagram account.

"I was suddenly and unexpectedly called on to compete while I was at the women's locker room," Rekabi said Wednesday, according to BBC News. She was wearing a baseball cap and a hood, which covered her hair. "I was busy wearing my shoes and fixing my equipment and forgot to wear my hijab, which I should have worn."

Rekabi denied leaving Seoul earlier than expected, and said she was feeling stressed due to "some extreme reactions." She apologized "to the Iranian people for the confusion and concerns."

"I came back to Iran with peace of mind, although I had a lot of tension and stress. But so far, thank God, nothing has happened," she said, according to the Associated Press.

Iranian athlete missing after competing without hijab 05:23

On Tuesday, sources told CBS News senior correspondent Elizabeth Palmer that Rekabi had her passport and phone confiscated after being lured into the Iranian Embassy in Seoul on a ruse. There were also reports that she had left her hotel in Seoul two days earlier than planned.

Other Iranian athletes who have competed without headscarves in the past have spoken about being pressured to issue false "confessions" for Iranian state television, and some people believe Rekabi was likely forced to speak to Iranian state TV and apologize.

Rekabi was met at the airport in Tehran by her family and given flowers. She then reportedly got into a van and was driven through the cheering crowds. It was unclear where she went from there.

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