Ex-FBI agent held hostage in Iran likely dead, USA says

Robert Levinson

Robert Levinson

A retired FBI Agent Robert Levinson who disappeared from an Iranian island in 2007 while working as a private investigator, is believed to have died in Iranian custody, his family revealed in a statement Wednesday.

"Robert Levinson, who was outstanding, he's been sick for a long time and it's rough...problems prior to his detainment or capture and we feel terribly for the family", stated the president.

The email, obtained by The Associated Press, was sent a day after Levinson's family revealed that the USA government had concluded that Levinson was dead.

He added, in apparent reference to what USA officials had told the family: "They've been making the statement to the family, I believe". "We expect American officials, as well as officials around the world, to continue to press Iran to seek Bob's return, and to ensure those Iranian officials involved are held accountable", they said.

The only known traces of Levinson surfaced in 2011 when family members released still photos and a video in which he pleaded for help. Levinson was a specialist on Russian organised crime and had not had much previous involvement in Iran.

But the Washington Post reported in 2013 that Levinson, who had retired from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was working for the CIA and had gone on a rogue mission aimed at gathering intelligence on Iran.

The circumstances and timing of Levinson's death were unclear, but White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien said Wednesday evening that the US believes Levinson "may have passed away some time ago".

Another theory of USA officials was that the Iranian government could have routed the images externally in an effort to blame Mr Levinson's disappearance on someone else.

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Levinson disappeared in 2007. "This is the very definition of cruelty", they said in the statement.

They did not know "when or how he died", adding that it was "impossible to describe our pain".

White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien said in a statement: "While the investigation is ongoing, we believe that Mr Levinson may have passed away some time ago". For years, US officials would say only that Levinson was working independently on a private investigation. Documents his family obtained by an Iranian source and provided to ABC News last fall appeared to show that Iranian military prosecutors ordered him detained on the island on suspicion of spying and held him for months at a military airfield even after he slipped into a coma that they said was caused by his diabetes.

Iranian officials steadfastly denied knowing anything about him, despite queries from the USA and requests through other countries that had better relations with Iran.

The Iranian government has never publicly acknowledged any role in Levinson's abduction, though at the time of his disappearance a government-affiliated media outlet broadcast a story saying he was "in the hands of Iranian security forces". He was a great gentleman, and a great family.

"Iran has always maintained that its officials have no knowledge of Mr Levinson's whereabouts, and that he is not in Iranian custody".

Levinson, who was Jewish, is survived by his wife, Christine, seven children, and numerous grandchildren.

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