Iran frees diplomat captured in Pakistan

"We have a high intelligence capability in the region," says intel minister.

March 30, 2010 19:34
2 minute read.
In this Thursday, Nov 13, 2008 file photo, a Pakis

shattered windshield 311. (photo credit: AP)

TEHERAN, Iran — Iran said Tuesday its intelligence agents mounted a "complicated" cross-border mission and freed a diplomat kidnapped in 2008 in northwestern Pakistan.

Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said Iran had asked Pakistan to free Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, but after it failed to do the job, Teheran stepped in.

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However, a senior Pakistani security official said Pakistani intelligence did help in the rescue. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Another Pakistani official, Governor of North West Frontier Province Owais Ahmed Ghani, said Afghan officials helped recover Attarzadeh. He said he received information suggesting the diplomat was handed over to Iranian authorities in the Afghan capital Kabul.

Iranian state television reported agents carried out a "a complicated intelligence operation" to rescue Attarzadeh, who was a commercial attache in the Peshawar consulate at the time he was kidnapped. They then took him back to Iran, the report said.

"We have a high intelligence capability in the region," Moslehi said. "We have a good intelligence dominance over all other secret agencies active in the region," he added, accusing US and Israeli intelligence agencies of supporting the kidnappers.

Attarzadeh and his Pakistani bodyguard were driving over a narrow bridge in Peshawar on Nov. 13, 2008 when two gunmen blocked their way with a car and opened fire. The attackers fled with the diplomat after killing the guard.

Peshawar is the capital of North West Frontier Province and borders the largely autonomous tribal regions, parts of which have become strongholds for Taliban and al-Qaida militants who have staged repeated attacks on the city.

In the 1980s, Peshawar was an intrigue-filled hub for US-backed guerrillas fighting Soviet troops in neighboring Afghanistan, some of whom went on to form the Taliban or al-Qaida. Osama bin Laden, who may now be hiding in the adjacent tribal regions, was among them.

Despite that legacy, the city of some 2 million was once considered relatively safe for foreigners. But organized crime and militancy are on the rise — and increasingly hard to distinguish — and it was possible that the Iranian was kidnapped for ransom.

A year after Attarzadeh was kidnapped, a Pakistani employee of the same Iranian consulate was gunned down near his home.

Iran is mostly Shiite and is regularly denounced by the fiercely Sunni al-Qaida and Taliban operating along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Hardline Sunnis consider Shiites to be heretics and often call for attacks against them.

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