The Trump administration on Monday slapped sanctions on two senior Iranian government officials who it says kidnapped American Robert Levinson, who has been missing since 2007 and likely died in Iranian captivity.
The sanctions represent the first time the American government has publicly blamed Iran for Levinson’s kidnapping, which Tehran has denied for the past 13 years. Levinson, a retired FBI agent and suspected CIA officer, went missing in southern Iran under suspicious circumstances. He was last seen in a 2011 photo dressed in an orange jumpsuit similar to the ones worn by terrorist detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
The Trump administration says several officials from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security orchestrated the Levinson kidnapping in March 2007. It is still unclear what Levinson was doing in Iran. While some media reports claimed he was working undercover for the CIA, the U.S. government maintains he was there as a private citizen.
"The United States Government is initiating the first public actions against the Iranian government to hold them accountable for the abduction of Robert Levinson—the longest ever held American hostage," the White House said in a statement on the new sanctions. "It is clear that not only were senior Iranian officials responsible for Mr. Levinson’s disappearance, but that they took deliberate actions to obscure their involvement through an extensive disinformation campaign."
The two Iranian intelligence officers, Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, coordinated the "abduction, detention, and probable death of Mr. Levinson," according to the Treasury Department. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was designated as a human-rights abuser in 2012.
Baseri is a senior Ministry of Intelligence and Security official known to conduct espionage operations outside of Iran, according to information provided by the Treasury Department. Khazai also is a high-ranking ministry official who runs operations outside of Iran’s borders.