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US sanctions Iranian officials over abduction, ‘probable death’ of ex FBI agent

Robert Levinson, (Unknown author/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has accused Iran of direct involvement in the presumed death of former FBI agent Robert Levinson and imposed sanctions on two Iranian intelligence agents believed to be responsible for his abduction.

The U.S administration said two senior officials from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) were “involved in the abduction, detention, and probable death” of the former agent.

Levinson, who was born in March 1948, disappeared when he traveled to the Iranian Kish Island resort in March 2007. He was reportedly working for the CIA as a contractor at the time.

The United States has repeatedly called on Iran to help locate Levinson and bring him home, but Iranian officials said they had no information about his fate.

However, when he disappeared, an Iranian government-linked media outlet broadcast a story saying he was “in the hands of Iranian security forces.”

“The abduction of Mr. Levinson in Iran is an outrageous example of the Iranian regime’s willingness to commit unjust acts,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement, adding that the United States “will continue to aggressively pursue those who played a role in Mr. Levinson’s detention and probable death.”

In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Levinson’s case “another egregious example of the regime’s callous disregard toward human life,” and reiterated the U.S. government’s “strong warning” to American citizens and dual nationals that traveling to Iran may jeopardize their personal safety.

“The Iranian regime has a 41-year history of abducting and detaining foreigners and dual-nationals as political leverage,” he said.

Under sanctions announced on December 14, any property or assets that the two targeted Iranian officials — identified as Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai — hold in the United States would be blocked. Though it’s unlikely that the Iranian agents have bank accounts in the United States, the move could also limit their movements or financial dealings outside of Iran.

The Levinson family thanked the U.S. administration, saying in a statement: “This is just one step in a long road toward achieving justice for him, but it is an important one.”

There was no immediate comments from Iranian officials.