(FBI photos)

State Dept. Offers $20 Million to Locate Longest-Held U.S. Hostage

The State Department’s Rewards for Justice today announced a new $20 million reward for information leading to the safe location, recovery, and return of former FBI agent Bob Levinson — the longest-held hostage in U.S. history.

Levinson, who served six years with the DEA and 22 at the FBI before his retirement, disappeared on Kish Island, a visa-free zone in Iran, on March 9, 2007. He had been working as a private investigator after his retirement.

(State Department)

The last video proof-of-life was received by the Levinson family in 2010, and the last photos in 2011; he would now be 71 years old. The FBI announced a $1 million reward for Levinson’s return in 2012 and upped that amount to $5 million in 2015.

“This sends a clear message from our government of how important it is that Bob Levinson be returned to his family and friends who love him. All the Iranian authorities need to do is send him home,” the Levinson family said in a statement. “To the individuals in Iran and elsewhere who know where Bob Levinson is, or have information that will bring him back to us, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or email info@rewardsforjustice.net. All we care about is having him home, so he can live the rest of his life in peace.”

Bob’s wife, Christine,  told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism in March that “the evidence is so conclusive that the United Nations released an opinion in 2016 holding Iran responsible for Bob’s continued deprivation of liberty — yet Iran has been allowed to feign ignorance over and over again with absolutely no consequences from the U.S.”

“On Nov. 4, 1979, 52 Americans were taken hostage in our embassy in Tehran. They were held by Iranians for 444 days, until they were finally allowed to return home. Today, there are still many American citizens and permanent residents held in Iran,” tweeted the Levinson family’s congressman, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.). “My constituent, Bob Levinson, is the longest held American in history. He went missing in Iran on March 9, 2007. All governments & world leaders must work to secure the return of hostages in Iran to their families. Iran must stop this despicable practice of hostage taking.”

Of the State Department announcement, Deutch said, “I am grateful for this action. Bob Levinson is the longest held American hostage. Let’s hope this increased reward compels anyone with information to come forward. We must all continue to make Bob’s safe return the highest priority. His family has suffered too long without him.”

Other U.S. hostages languishing in Iran include Siamak Namazi, a U.S. citizen and businessman who was seized in October 2015 on a visit to Tehran; his father, Baquer Namazi, also a U.S. citizen, was trying to secure his son’s release when he was seized in Tehran in February 2016. The pair were sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “spying and cooperating with the U.S. government against Iran.”

Siamak’s birthday was Oct. 13 and his family tweeted, “Can’t believe it’s been four years since your unjust arrest by the #IRGC. Four horrific years spent in Evin, with your only crime being that you are a pawn in a game none of us understands…”

Iran holds Princeton University doctoral student Xiyue Wang, who was arrested in August 2016 for scanning historical documents related to his Ph.D. research and sentenced to 10 years. The University of Washington graduate has a young son, Shao, with his wife, Qu Hua, who has been laboring intensively for Xiyue’s release.

Iran also seized art gallery owner Karan Vafadari in July 2016 by first detaining his Iranian wife at the airport and directing her to call and summon him there. They lobbed various vice charges at the Zoroastrian before he was sentenced to 27 years and 124 lashes for “collusion in plots against national security” and other charges. He said in a letter more than a year ago that the IRGC tried to force his wife “to say I was a member of the Mossad and the CIA… so they could hang me.”

In January 2018, Morad Tahbaz, a Connecticut conservationist, was arrested along with other current and former staffers of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation. A Canadian among the arrested, Kavous Seyed-Emam, died in custody — 17 days into his interrogation and detention; Iran claims he committed suicide, which his family disputes. Iran claims the trap cameras used to film wildlife were spying on the country’s missile program.

Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran, was detained in July and sentenced last month to a decade behind bars. He had a melanoma recently removed and his family says his health is deteriorating.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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