Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped a diplomatic bombshell, revealing in a cautiously worded statement in March that the United States had received evidence that Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in 2007, was alive and being held in "southwest Asia." In her statement, Clinton asked "respectfully" for Iran's assistance in facilitating Levinson's safe return.
Levinson's family shortly thereafter received an email with a batch of photos of Levinson in an orange jumpsuit, but apart from that, his trail has lately grown cold, with no diplomatic breakthrough apparently poised to secure his release. As a result, Levinson's family has released a video of him that they received from his captors last November to the Associated Press. They have also issued their own video pleading for his release.
In the 54-second hostage video, "Levinson pleaded with the U.S. government to meet the demands" of the group holding him for the past three and a half years, the Associated Press's Matthew Apuzzo and Adam Goldman reported late Thursday.
"I have been treated well," Levinson, now 64, says on the video. "But I need the help of the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me for three and a half years."
Addressing "my beautiful, my loving, my loyal wife, Christine," and their seven children and grandson (apparently he is unaware he now also has a granddaughter), Levinson said: "I am not in very good health. I am running very quickly out of diabetes medicine."
The video contained a tantalizing clue about the case. When Levinson went missing in 2007 from the Iranian resort town of Kish Island, diplomats had assumed Iranian captors had seized him. (Immediately before his disappearance, he had met with a controversial U.S. fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, now living in exile in Iran.) But the 2010 video suggests that Levinson's captors may be Pashtuns, who predominantly live along the Pakistani and Afghan border area.
"Investigators determined that the video was routed through an Internet address in Pakistan, suggesting that Levinson might be held there," Apuzzo and Goldman report. "Also, Pashtun wedding music played faintly in the background, officials said. The Pashtun people live primarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan, just over Iran's eastern border."
The video was also "accompanied by a demand that the U.S. release prisoners, but officials said the United States is not holding anyone matching the names on the list," Goldman and Apuzzo wrote. However, officials told the AP it's possible the men may have previously been held by the Pakistani government.
Shortly after Clinton's March announcement, "the Levinson family received a series of photos of Levinson dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit like the ones worn by detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," the AP investigation reported. "In each photo, he wore a different sign hung around his neck. One read, 'Why you can not help me.' "
Investigators determined the photos were sent from an Internet address in Afghanistan, Apuzzo and Goldman wrote.
And then the trail went cold, leaving investigators to pore over old details.
One person who reportedly currently professes not to know, and the last person known to have seen Levinson before his 2007 disappearance, is the American-born Salahuddin, who has lived in exile in Iran ever since his 1980 murder of an anti-Khomeni Iranian dissident in Bethesda, Md.
But even the purpose of their meeting remains opaque. The man thought to have introduced Salahuddin to Levinson, former NBC investigative journalist Ira Silverman, reported in the New Yorker in 2002 that Salahuddin had been in contact with a former U.S. official about possibly arranging a deal to return to the United States. Levinson's family has maintained that Levinson was in Kish investigating cigarette smuggling as a private investigator for a British tobacco firm.
Christine Levinson, Levinson's wife and the mother of their seven children, told CNN in 2007 that she had received a call from Salahuddin after Levinson was detained in Kish Island. In the call, she said, Salahuddin assured her that he thought Levinson would be released in a few days.
"Please tell us your demands so we can work together to bring my father home safely," Levinson's son David says on the video.
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