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Iran officially announced on Tuesday that its former deputy defense minister was missing while on a private trip to neighboring Turkey, and its top police chief accused Western intelligence services of possibly kidnapping the official.
Ali Reza Asghari, a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards and a former deputy defense minister, had arrived in Turkey on a private visit from Damascus, Syria, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported Tuesday.
Iran's top police chief, Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam, said Iran was investigating the fate of Asghari through 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.
Iranian general vanishes; Mossad/CIA blamed
Meanwhile, however, the London-based Arab daily Asharq alawsat said on Tuesday, quoting high-profile sources, that Asghari may have sought asylum in the US.
The newspaper reported that the Iranian official had left for the US shortly after arriving in the Turkish capital.
Other reports from the Arab media suggested that the Mossad and the CIA were behind Asgari's disappearance. Israel has denied involvement in the general's disappearance, but The Daily Telegraph speculated on Monday that Asgari could have been abducted by Israel to shed light on the whereabouts of missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, who Israel has claimed might have been held at one point by Iran.
Fearing that Iran will try to kidnap senior Israeli officials who are traveling abroad, the Israeli security establishment was reevaluating Tuesday and adjusting security arrangements for certain officials visiting non-Western and Muslim countries.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) - the agency in charge of providing security for Israeli officials - said: "We formulate our security arrangements according to developments in the field and intelligence information."
Meanwhile, Iran has asked Turkish officials to investigate Asgari's disappearance, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted Monday as saying.
Mottaki said Iran was "taking all the necessary steps" to solve the case of the missing general.
"A director-general from the (foreign) ministry has traveled to Turkey (to follow up the case). We have asked Turkey to investigate Asgari's case," said Mottaki.
Reportedly, Asgari, who was a Revolutionary Guards commander at the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, was involved in a deal to transfer Arad to the Iranians in exchange for a large sum of money.
The Telegraph said it was understood that Hizbullah guerillas might have passed Arad up the chain of command to their Iranian handlers.
The Telegraph also suggested that the former spy chief was not kidnapped by an intelligence service but defected while visiting Turkey, escaping to a Western country, and Israel and the US were showing special interest in the case since Asgari might be able to shed some light on the fate of Arad.
In Turkey, the Interior Ministry said it was investigating the matter, but would not confirm or deny that Asghari had disappeared or been kidnapped.