- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

TEHRAN (Reuters) — A former FBI agent is being held by Iranian authorities, the Financial Times reported yesterday, but U.S. officials said they were still unable to verify the whereabouts of the missing American.

Florida resident and former FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing while on a visit to the Gulf island of Kish in Iran early in March. His family has not heard from him since and U.S. officials said they do not have any valid leads.

Diplomats fear the case of Mr. Levinson could mark a new twist in apparent tit-for-tat detentions involving the United States, Britain and Iran, which began with the detention by U.S. forces in Iraq of five Iranians in January and the capture of 15 British sailors and marines by Iran who were freed last week.

The Financial Times quoted one of Mr. Levinson’s associates, Dawud Salahuddin — a U.S. citizen wanted by U.S. authorities in connection with a purported killing in 1980 — as saying he and Mr. Levinson had shared a hotel room on Kish on March 8.

Iranian officials in plain clothes came to the room and detained and questioned Mr. Salahuddin about his Iranian passport, Mr. Salahuddin said. On his release a day later, Mr. Levinson had disappeared, and the Iranian officials told Mr. Salahuddin he had left Iran.

“I don’t think he is missing, but don’t want to point my finger at anyone. Some people know exactly where he is,” Mr. Salahuddin told the newspaper. “He came only to see me.”

Mr. Salahuddin confirmed the details of the Financial Times story but did not comment further.

When asked whether he was concerned for Mr. Levinson, he said: “No, but it is something that hangs over my head because I feel responsible for him.” He said this was because Mr. Levinson had come to speak to him.

U.S. officials in Washington said they have not been able to independently verify Mr. Salahuddin’s version of events.

“We believe that there were contacts between [Mr. Salahuddin] and Levinson. The comments by [Mr. Salahuddin] generally track with what we think he has said before, but we cannot independently confirm or verify much of it,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Washington has made an official diplomatic inquiry to Iran about Mr. Levinson, who U.S. officials said went there on private business. Tehran said it is trying to find out what happened to him and has asked the United States for more information.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Washington still did not have any “credible” information about Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts.

“We continue to be very concerned about his well-being and want to do everything we can to try to locate him,” Mr. Casey said.

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