Iran General NewsNew President was ringleader of US embassy seizure, say...

New President was ringleader of US embassy seizure, say hostages

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The Times: The Bush Administration is investigating allegations
by former US hostages in Iran that the country’s newly elected President was one of the student leaders responsible for holding them captive 25 years ago.
In a move that could have serious diplomatic repercussions, the White House said that the allegations had “raised many questions” about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s past and that it was “looking into the facts”. The Times

1 July 2005

By Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor

THE Bush Administration is investigating allegations by former US hostages in Iran that the country’s newly elected President was one of the student leaders responsible for holding them captive 25 years ago.

In a move that could have serious diplomatic repercussions, the White House said that the allegations had “raised many questions” about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s past and that it was “looking into the facts”.

On Wednesday, five former diplomats who were seized in 1979 and held for 444 days by student revolutionaries in Tehran identified the President as one of the people responsible for their detention and interrogation.

“This is the guy. There is no question about it,” said Charles Scott, a retired Army colonel. “You could make him a blond and shave off his whiskers, put him in a zoot suit and I’d spot him.”

Colonel Scott, the embassy’s former military attaché, described Mr Ahmadinejad as a “security chief”, who sat in on some of his interrogations. He recalled that, on one occasion when he was being held at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, Iran’s future president berated a guard for being too soft on the hostages, whom he described as “dogs” and “pigs”.

If the claims are substantiated, it could further complicate efforts by Britain, France and Germany to establish a dialogue with the new leadership in Iran. The Europeans want to persuade Tehran to limit its controversial nuclear programme, which Washington suspects is a cover for building an atomic bomb.

Mr Ahmadinejad, 49, already has a reputation as a hardliner. He served in the Revolutionary Guards during the war with Iraq and was most recently mayor of Tehran, where he cracked down on any manifestations of Western culture.

On Wednesday, he vowed to export the Islamic revolution around the world. It is no secret that the new Iranian leader was a founder of the student movement in Iran responsible for storming the American Embassy. But his office in Tehran denied that the President had anything to do with hostage-taking. Three Iranians who did take part in the siege said yesterday that Mr Ahmadinejad was not involved. “Definitely he was not among the students who took part in the seizure,” said Abbas Abdi, the former leader of the hostage-takers. “He was not part of us. He played no role in the seizure, let alone being responsible for security.”

The dispute was triggered by the re-emergence of a 1979 photograph showing a man who resembles the president leading Jerry Miele, a blindfolded American diplomat, from the US Embassy compound.

Hamid Babaei, the press attaché of the Iranian Embassy in London, insisted that it was a case of mistaken identity. “It is not Mr Ahmadinejad,” he said. “If he had been involved in this matter the details would have come out long before now. The man in the picture is not him.”

John Limbert, a former hostage who still works for the US State Department, said that that there was a strong likeness but it was difficult to tell after so many years. “It is hard to say for certain, but it certainly looks like him,” he said. “It has been 25 years since the incident and these fellows did not exactly introduce themselves to us.”

Nevertheless, Mr Scott and four hostages told the Associated Press that during the recent elections in Iran they had recognised the new President as one of their tormentors. William Daugherty, a former CIA officer in Tehran, said that Mr Ahmadinejad was one of the student ringleaders who accompanied a Vatican delegation early in the crisis.

“It is impossible to forget a guy like that,” Mr Daugherty said. “Clearly the way he acted, the fact he gave orders, that he was older — most certainly he was one of the ringleaders.”

David Roeder, the embassy’s former deputy Air Force attaché, also claimed that Mr Ahmadinejad was present during one of his interrogations. “It was almost like he was checking on the interrogation techniques they were using in a sort of adviser capacity,” Mr Roeder said.

Donald Sharer, the embassy’s former naval attaché, said he had no doubt that Mr Ahmadinejad was a hostage-taker. “He was extremely cruel,” Mr Sharer said. “He is one of the hardliners, so that tells you what their government is going to stand for in the next four to five years.”

FORGING AHEAD

• 1956 Born in Garmsar village, south of Tehran, son of a blacksmith
• 1979 Founder member of Office for Strengthening Unity, student group that seized the US Embassy
• 1980 Joins special forces unit of the Revolutionary Guards, involved in operations behind Iraqi lines
• 1993 Appointed Governor General of Ardebil province
• 2003 Elected Mayor of Tehran by city council
• 2005 Elected President in landslide victory

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