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Family Says Retired FBI Agent, Who Vanished In 2007, Died In Iranian Custody


A former FBI agent named Robert Levinson vanished in Iran 13 years ago. Since then U.S. officials and his family have been trying to figure out what happened. Newly obtained intelligence suggests that he is now dead. This morning, I should add, an Iranian government spokesman tweeted that Iran has no knowledge of his whereabouts. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Robert Levinson's family members say they don't know where or when he died, only that it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. In an emotional statement, they said they've been waiting 13 years for answers and only recently received information that led them and the U.S. government to conclude that Levinson died in Iranian custody. In a tweet, Trump's Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell says America mourns with the Levinsons. President Trump says he was a great gentleman.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's not looking great, but I won't accept that he's dead. They haven't told us that he's dead. But a lot of people are thinking that that is the case.

KELEMEN: Levinson, a former FBI agent, went missing on Iran's Kish Island in 2007. The AP reported years later that he was working with some CIA analysts on a mission that had not been approved. His wife and seven children are urging the Iranians to return his body, saying his blood is on their hands. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch says his heart breaks for the Levinsons, his constituents.

TED DEUTCH: His country owes so much to Bob. The community stands with his family. And our next fight is to bring his remains home to its final resting place with the Levinson family.

KELEMEN: Last year in a prisoner swap, Iran released an American graduate student, but others remained behind. Babak Namazi is urging Iran to release his brother Siamak, at risk of COVID-19.

BABAK NAMAZI: I cannot understand nor accept the fact that the judicial authorities have released over 85,000 prisoners and are inhumanely refusing to allow Siamak to go on a furlough even as a coronavirus is swiftly creeping its way into Siamak's overcrowded cell.

KELEMEN: Iran did give medical furlough to another U.S. citizen, Michael White. His family says he is now showing symptoms of COVID-19, and they're seeking a medical evacuation out of Iran.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAODAIL'S "GAEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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