Skip to main content

US urges Iran to provide answers about ex-FBI agent's disappearance

On the 14th anniversary of disappearance of Bob Levinson, Washington calls on Tehran to release all US citizens in its custody
Bob Levinson
Robert 'Bob' Levinson's family released photos of him in an orange jumpsuit in 2013 (AFP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

The United States has renewed its call for Iran to share any information on the disappearance and presumed death of former FBI agent Bob Levinson, who went missing in the Islamic Republic 14 years ago, stressing that the "case is not closed".

In a statement marking the anniversary of Levinson's disappearance on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called on Tehran to free all Americans in its custody.

"We call on the Iranian government to provide credible answers to what happened to Bob Levinson and to immediately and safely release all US citizens who are unjustly held captive in Iran," Blinken said. 

"The abhorrent act of unjust detentions for political gain must cease immediately."

US flies bombers over Middle East in apparent message to Iran
Read More »

The administration of former President Donald Trump had imposed sanctions on Iranian intelligence officials late in 2020 over their alleged role in Levinson's disappearance.

Tehran maintains that Levinson, who was captured while on an unknown intelligence mission in the Gulf island of Kish, was not in Iranian custody. Last year, his family and US officials said they believe he is now dead.

Fourteen years after his disappearance, the circumstances and nature of Levinson's presence in Iran at the time of his abduction remain unclear. US officials and the former agent's family have said that he was on an unauthorised CIA operation.

In 2010, a video emerged of Levinson pleading for help from the US government to secure his release. In it, he mentions an unidentified "group" that had held him for three years.

Three years later, his family released photos of a bearded Levinson in shackles and an orange jumpsuit, holding a sign that says "Help me". The family had received the picture anonymously in 2011.

Detaining foreign nationals

While Levinson was an actual spy, Iran regularly detains western foreign nationals, including academics, tourists and dual citizens visiting their relatives.

Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on the Iranian authorities to "permanently" release UK citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who had been detained in the Islamic Republic since 2016.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was visiting family in Iran when she was arrested and charged with plotting against the Iranian government, accusations she denies. 

She was moved from prison to house arrest last year after the outbreak of the coronavirus, and this month authorities removed an electronic ankle bracelet that tracks her movement. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still without her British passport and faces further legal cases.

"Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable," Johnson wrote on Twitter on Sunday. 

"She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK, and we continue to do all we can to achieve this."

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.