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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

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

The Iranian former deputy defense minister who disappeared in neighboring Turkey last month is said to have sought asylum in the United States. Tehran said was Ali Reza Asghari went missing while on a private trip to Turkey.

The pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat on Tuesday quoted high-profile sources as saying that 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 abducting Asghari, who is also a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards.


Al-Sharq al-Awsat's 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 Asghari's disappearance.

A British newspaper reported Monday that Asghari 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, Asghari was the most senior Iranian intelligence official in Lebanon, with responsibility for Iran's ties with Hezbollah.

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

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