As I write, the British hostage crisis is resolved, but their situation has sparked new questions about the Iranian president and his possible role in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
Earlier this week, I told you about Kathryn Koob (rhymes with robe), one of two women held for 444 days in ‘79. This week, I met up with her in Minneapolis, where she told me an extraordinary story about one of her captors at the embassy … a captor she believes to be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Kathryn's story is remarkable. She says her faith got her through the terrible days when she was isolated and alone. She had no idea they had released all of the women at the compound, except two, because she rarely saw anyone else. Like the British, they were segregated and held in isolation.
"We were tied in chairs, faced the wall, told not to speak to each other and we weren't able to communicate, except maybe if you walked past someone and pressed their shoulder or something like that,” Koob told me.
Over the next year and a half, the students kept with their new radical beliefs and separated the female hostages from the rest. Koob was often held in a small 8 x 12 foot room. Some of the female guards were strident and unpredictable.
"My fear was that one of them would do something really foolish and strike out, or that the strain would get too much for one of my colleagues,” she said.
When Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, about a half dozen former U.S. hostages, like Koob, claimed he was one of the students.
Koob claims her brush with Ahmadinejad came in the embassy courtyard. It was one of the few times she was allowed to go outside by her captors — so Koob and the other female hostage pulled up their shirt sleeves to get some sun.
"All of a sudden, this whirlwind of a man came into the courtyard, sort of yelling at us, you know, ‘How dare you do this, how dare you insult the principals of Islam and show your forearms and your legs, you know you're not supposed to do that,'" Koob said.
Koob’s view is shared by a former CIA officer William Daugherty, who was among the 66 Americans taken in ‘79. He was first interviewed just after Ahmadinejad's election, where he told FOX, “I think that's what impressed me more than anything else, was his looks at us, as though, you know, we really weren't worthy to live. Just, just a deep, intense personal hatred on his part. And that sort of thing really doesn't leave you."
While Koob’s claims, as well as others, are not shared by all of the former hostages, FOX News has learned that state department officials began quietly investigating their stories.
State Spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters this week that "there was an effort by the U.S. government to get in contact with former hostages to determine whether or not President Ahmadinejad was, in fact, one of the hostage-takers, or one of the people that was involved in questioning them or in any way involved with that whole incident."
U.S. officials tell FOX the questions surrounding the Iranian president have never been resolved, but they do believe he was part of the student movement. What's new and important here is that this episode seems to upping the ante. One official told me that there is, "Strong interest in any information about Ahmadinejad and his background — especially that 1979 time frame."
In this week's intelligence briefing: Iran, the bomb and the British hostages.
On the surface, there doesn't seem to be a connection between the three — but in the Middle East, from my experience, nothing happens in a vacuum. A new report this week suggests that Iran may be only two years away from the bomb. Senior U.S. officials are disputing the report, telling FOX that they don't believe Iran will have the ability to build and deliver a bomb before 2015.
Frankly, 2015 is not very far away either, but in order to cross that threshold, Iran will have to accomplish several things.
U.S. officials confirm that Iran is making a big push to put more centrifuges into its plant at Natanz. Officially, the Iranians say it’s for power, but no one in the U.S. intelligence community really believes that. As one U.S. official told me, it takes more than just hardware to get the bomb: "The Iranians must show that they can operate, run the centrifuges in sync, and run them efficiently [in order to enrich uranium.]”
Even if they can accomplish that, Iran must work on good detonators and also a means of delivery. This is just a fancy way of saying that they need the raw materials and the know-how to get the bomb. And that could still take years.
What's the connection to the hostages? On Weekend Live Saturday, we interviewed Kathryn Koob. During the 1979 hostage crisis, she was one of only two American women held for the full 444 days in Tehran. Her theory is that the Iranian regime wants to take the focus off their nuclear program. It's almost like that old saying, "There is no such thing as bad publicity."
As far as Iran is concerned, the world media, the British and the European union are breathing down their neck about the hostages. It may be a welcome change from constant scrutiny about their nuclear ambitions.
Koob is now one in a long line of former U.S. hostages who believe with absolute certainty that the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the students who held them in ‘79 and ‘80. The official line from the intelligence community is that they know Ahmedinejad was part of the student movement in Iran, but they don't know what his exact role was. A guard? One of the hostage-takers? None of these are officially being ruled out.
And, Koob says the seizure of the British sailors has Ahmadinejad's fingerprints all over it.
Catherine Herridge is the Homeland Defense Correspondent for FOX News and hosts FOX News Live Saturday 12-2 p.m. ET. Since coming to FOX in 1996 as a London-based correspondent, she has since reported on the 2004 presidential elections, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Medicare fraud, prescription drug abuse and child prostitution. You can read the rest of her bio here.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.