- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Iran said yesterday that a former high-ranking official disappeared last month in Istanbul, sparking an international whodunit and suggestions of foul play by Western intelligence agencies.

Former Deputy Defense Minister Alireza Askari, 63, a veteran of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was last seen in Istanbul on Feb. 7 shortly after arriving from the Syrian capital Damascus.

“It is possible that former deputy defense minister Askari was kidnapped by Western intelligence services because of his Defense Ministry background,” Iranian Police Chief Ismail Ahmadi-Mghaddam was quoted as saying by Iran’s IRNA news agency.

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, a former Iranian ambassador to Turkey, said Mr. Askari’s disappearance is being investigated.

The Israeli press reported that Mr. Askari headed Iran’s intelligence operations in Lebanon in the 1990s and was the best-positioned Iranian to know what happened to downed Israeli pilot Ron Arad, whose fate has remained unknown for more than two decades. Some Israeli intelligence officials believe Mr. Arad is being held in Iran.

Mr. Askari also was linked to the Jan. 20 killing of five American soldiers in the Iraqi city of Karbala, according to Israeli news outlets.

the Associated Press, came as the five permanent council members deliberated a new resolution aiming to tighten up sanctions against Iran for its nuclear defiance.

The document said Iran was ready to “negotiate … for the resolution of outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency … without the interference of the United Nation(s) Security Council.” It was signed by Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief representative to the agency in Vienna, Austria.

Arab and Israeli newspapers have speculated that the CIA or Mossad are behind his disappearance, with one source saying that American operatives have been hunting for him since the Karbala attack.

The Farsi-language Baztab Web site, which belongs to former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaie, reported that Mr. Askari’s name was one of 20 appearing on a CIA hit-list of former guard officers.

Mr. Askari’s disappearance was first reported by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. Since then, security has been boosted around Israeli embassies amid fears that Iran’s elite Quds Brigade might carry out revenge attacks.

Photographs of Mr. Askari have been sent to all Turkish border-crossing points.

One former high-ranking Iranian diplomat told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity that Mr. Askari might have defected.

“The disillusionment within the regime is sometimes stronger than the disillusionment of the ordinary people,” he said. “These are people who traveled outside Iran, to Europe, and know a different level of life.”

The theory that Mr. Askari may have defected was supported by pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat yesterday, which quoted sources saying the Iranian left for the United States, “along with the secrets he carried,” shortly after arriving in Istanbul.


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