Just why Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and now private investigator, should venture into Iran to meet a American fugitive wanted for murder in the US remains a mystery that the highest Bush administration authorities are trying to unravel.
As the Financial Times revealed this week, Mr Levinson disappeared on March 8 after a six-hour meeting on the Iranian island of Kish with Dawud Salahuddin, an American who converted to Islam and was recruited by revolutionaries to assassinate an Iranian opposition activist near Washington in 1980.
Friends of Mr Levinson are mystified that he took the risk of travelling for such a meeting. They fear he is the victim of a sting operation by Iranian secret services engaged in an escalating "dirty war" between the US and Iran, involving hostage-taking and covert cross-border operations.
Mr Salahuddin, who fled to Iran after the 1980 murder and has at times expressed interest in returning to the US to face justice, told the FT in Tehran that he, too, feared Mr Levinson was an "innocent victim" of the clash between what he calls Iran's paranoia about the US and Washington's misguided foreign policy.
Mr Salahuddin said they registered a room in the Maryam hotel before he, too, was detained that night but released the next day after his Iranian passport was checked. Mr Levinson has not been heard from since. Iran's foreign ministry says it does not know where he is. The US believes he is in detention.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
A great piece of reporting from FT's Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Guy Dinmore