Video deepens mystery around ex-FBI agent Bob Levinson, a hostage in Iran
The family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, missing in Iran since 2007, confirmed today he's being held hostage and released a video provided by his captors.
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Levinson's case certainly seems different from recent incidents involving other Americans and citizens of other states at odds with Iran. Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, the three young American hikers who were arrested by Iran after they strayed over the Iran-Iraq border in 2009, were acknowledged by Tehran to be in government custody early on, were the subject of direct diplomatic visits and negotiations, and were eventually released. In 2007, when Iran seized 15 members of the Royal Navy it accused of straying into its waters, it held the British sailors for just 13 days.Skip to next paragraph
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To be sure, some American captives have had a much rougher time of it in Iran, particularly ones with dual nationality. Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar, was arrested in Tehran in 2007 and sentenced to 12 years in prison on allegations of espionage. But even in his case, his whereabouts and the fact he was being targeted by the state were rarely in doubt.
Levinson's case has been different, and more mysterious, from the moment news of his disappearance broke. Dawud Salahuddin, an American wanted for the 1980 murder of an Iranian diplomat on behalf of the Islamic Revolution near Washington, D.C., says he shared a room with Levinson the night before he disappeared and strongly implied in interviews since that some faction of the government might be holding Levinson.
In 2007, the Financial Times quoted Mr. Salahuddin – a man wanted by the FBI and connected to Press TV – as saying he'd shared a hotel room with Levinson on March 8. Salahuddin said he was detained by Iranian authorities himself that day and upon his release the next day, Levinson was gone. "I don't think he is missing, but don't want to point my finger at anyone," he said. "Some people know exactly where he is ... he came only to see me."
Salahuddin, born David Belfield who later converted to Islam while studying at Howard University, is a murky character in Iran. He has worked with Press TV and also has extensive, seemingly candid, contacts with Western journalists. But he also has links to parts of the security apparatus, not least because of the status and respect he gained for the murder of Ali Tabatabai, the press attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Washington under the Shah and assassinated as an enemy of the Islamic Revolution.
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