Robert Levinson, an American illegally held by the Iranian regime, is believed to have died, his family wrote in a statement posted Wednesday afternoon.
“We received information from US officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody,” the family wrote.
His death is not believed to be connected to the coronavirus, which has spread in Iran. He apparently died before its outbreak in February.
“It is impossible to describe our pain,” the family wrote. “Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man we have ever known. If not for the cruel, heartless actions of the Iranian regime, Robert Levinson would be alive and home with us today. It has been 13 years waiting for answer.”
The US government left him behind for many years, they wrote. The family vowed to make sure the Iranian regime and those who abandoned him know they will not be going away. Members of the Iranian regime must be held responsible, they wrote.
They said they appreciated the support of US administration officials, including acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US President Donald Trump. Several senators and congressmen were mentioned for having stood by Levinson’s cause, including Ted Deutch, Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez.
The Trump administration has been working to release Americans held in Iran. Levinson, a retired FBI agent, went missing in Iran in 2007. The State Department offered $20 million for information about his whereabouts, and the FBI offered $5m.
Deutch, who represents the Levinson family of Coral Springs, Florida, in Congress, issued this statement:
“I am devastated for the Levinson family. Christine, Susan, Stephanie, Sarah, Samantha, Dan, David and Doug are remarkable people that I respect enormously. They have endured more than any family should ever have to, and it has been my great honor to fight alongside them for Bob’s return. They deserved a better outcome. They deserved to be reunited with Bob.
“Bob and his family are a part of our community. We all mourn with them. We all offer our love and support to them. Bob served our country nobly, and our country owes him and his family our gratitude.
“I deeply appreciate all of my colleagues who have stood alongside me supporting the Levinsons. I thank the FBI, the State Department, and every official in the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations who made bringing Bob home a priority. We will never stop fighting to bring Bob home. Sadly, that’s now a fight to bring him to his final resting place with his family.
“Rest in peace, Bob Levinson,” Deutch wrote.
Levinson was 58 when he disappeared on Kish Island in southern Iran. A photo of him, bearded and held in Iran, was provided in a handout in 2011. According to Radio Farda and an Associated Press investigation, Levinson had been “sent on a mission by CIA analysts who had no authority to run such an operation.”
This lack of clarity about how he went to Iran added to the mystery surrounding his disappearance and Iran’s denials of his whereabouts for years.
Over time, the US has viewed Iran as responsible for his kidnapping, and officials have described him as a hostage. Iran was mandated in 2015 to cooperate in Levinson’s return. Like many things, Iran did not do that.
Iran continues to kidnap foreigners, including academics and others who it holds hostage. It has kept US journalists and students in solitary confinement, and academics have disappeared.
Iran and its allies use kidnapping as a method and are frequently rewarded for it by Western powers. Western diplomats often pose smiling with members of the Iranian regime and do not make inquiries or attempts to help those who are held hostage, preferring friendship with the regime to helping those who are suffering.