Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Report: Missing Iranian former minister has 'fled to U.S.'

Report: Missing Iranian former minister has 'fled to U.S.'
The Iranian former deputy defense minister who disappeared in Turkey last month is said to have sought asylum in the United States.

Pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat said on Tuesday, quoting high-profile sources, that Ali Reza Asghari left for the U.S. shortly after arriving in the Turkish capital.

Earlier Tuesday, Iran's top police chief accused Western intelligence services of possibly the high-ranking defense official who Tehran said was missing while on a private trip to neighboring Turkey.

The al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper sources, however, claim the official was not abducted but left for the United States "along with the secrets he carried."

Security was beefed up in Israeli embassies worldwide Tuesday following reports that Iran suspected the CIA and the Mossad of involvement in the disappearance of Asghari, a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards and a former deputy defense minister.

A British newspaper reported Monday that the missing official is likely to possess information on missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad.

Arad, an IAF navigator, was captured by the Lebanese Shiite Amal militia after ejecting from his warplane, shot down over southern Lebanon in 1986. Media reports have said the pro-Iranian Hezbollah took Arad from Amal security chief Mustafa Dirani the following year.

Reports have also said that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard took Arad in 1988 and transported him to Iran.

Asghari had arrived in Turkey on a private visit from Damascus, Syria, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Tuesday.

Iran's top police chief, General Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam, said Iran was investigating Asghari's fate with the cooperation of the Turkish police.

"It is likely that Asghari has been abducted by the Western intelligence services," IRNA quoted the Iranian police general as saying. The general did not elaborate.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Monday that the Iranian Embassy there had reported Asghari's disappearance and had asked Turkey's Interior Ministry to investigate.

In Israel, defense officials are concerned that there may be an attempt to kidnap embassy workers and strike Israeli targets.

According to a British Daily Telegraph report, Iranian intelligence official Asghari is also likely to have intimate knowledge of Iran's defense establishment and nuclear development program.

Although Asghari's disappearance in Turkey sparked allegations of a Mossad and CIA-linked kidnapping, Haaretz has learned that he may have defected.

Asghari served in the senior defense post under former defense minister General Ali Samahani. Israeli media have said that for many years, Azkari was the most senior Iranian intelligence official in Lebanon, with responsibility for Iran's ties with Hezbollah.

Israel Channel 10 television said late on Sunday that Asghari was kidnapped on February 7, after arriving in Istanbul from Damascus.


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