A former FBI agent who vanished without a trace in Iran three years ago is probably dead, says an American fugitive who claims he was the last man to see the former G-man alive.
Hassan Abdulraham, an American-born Muslim convert who is wanted for murder in the United States, says he met with Robert Levinson on March 8, 2007, at the Maryam Hotel on Kish Island, a Persian Gulf island that is part of Iran. Levinson, who was working for a private security company, had taken a flight to Kish Island from Dubai as part of an investigation into the lucrative cigarette smuggling trade.
Abdulraham, who, at the time, was an editor for Iran's state-run Press TV, says he had dinner with Levinson at the hotel.
He said their meeting was broken up by plainclothes Iranian police who detained him and questioned him for three hours before releasing him.
“They took me away, but not Levinson," Abdulraham said. 'The last time I saw him he was talking to the police who had him surrounded.”
If true, this would be the last known sighting of Levinson, who never told his family he was traveling to Iran.
Born in North Carolina with the name David Theodore Belfield, Abdulraham--who is also known as Dawud Salahuddin-- is wanted by the FBI for the murder of a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. He readily admits to shooting Ali Akbar Tabatabeaei at the behest of Iranian agents, who he says paid him $5,000 for the hit. He fled to Iran by way of Canada and Switzerland, and has been living in the Islamic Republic ever since.
Abdulraham, in an interview with FoxNews.com, said Levinson was overweight, but otherwise appeared to be in good health.
Nonetheless, he said, "I don't think he's alive. Levinson had some health issues, and somebody like him couldn’t go from being free for 59 years to all of a sudden thrown into jail and not being free.”
Levinson's wife, Christine, who has neither seen nor spoken with her husband since he disappeared, confirmed that he has diabetes. She said she had known her husband was in Dubai, but he did not tell her he was planning to travel to Iran.
"That's something we would have had a long talk about," she said.
Levinson said she knew something had happened to her husband on March 9 when he didn't call her. The next day she went through the files in his office and reconstructed his itinerary. She then called his client and confirmed that her husband had traveled to Iran.
She said she met with Abdulraham when she visited Iran in December 2007 in an attempt to find out what happened to her husband, and that the two discussed the circumstances of Levinson's disappearance and the purpose of his trip to Kish Island.
Speaking from her home in Coral Springs, Fla. about Abdulraham's suspicion that her husband has died, Christine Levinson told FoxNews.com, “I just don’t know. The information is not confirmable. I still believe Bob’s alive. Dawud has been really ambiguous, but maybe he wants to help you.”
An FBI official said the agency is looking into Abdulraham’s claims. The investigation has been difficult because FBI agents are unable to operate inside Iran. The U.S. uses the Swiss Embassy in Iran as an intermediary in the case.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tehran has rebuffed all American inquiries into Levinson's whereabouts.
Last fall, American diplomats met with Iranian officials in Geneva over Tehran’s nuclear program and used the occasion to press the Iranians about Levinson’s disappearance. The Americans were ignored, Crowley said.
“We’re doing everything we can through every channel we have available to us to find out what happened to Robert Levinson, but the Iranians have not provided any information whatsoever,” he said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated publicly that Tehran has no information on the matter but that authorities stand ready to work with the FBI if asked by Washington, an assertion discounted by American authorities.
Mohsen Sazegara, a former aide to the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and one of the founders of Iran’s Republican Guards, said Tehran would have taken a dim view of a former FBI agent operating inside the country.
“They are foolish enough and brutal enough to either torture or kill somebody like Levinson," said Sazegara, who broke ranks with Khomeini in the early 1980s and now runs a research foundation in Washington. "I really am afraid of what’s happened to him.”
Robert Levinson spent 22 years in the FBI working organized crime cases after spending six years with the DEA. His wife says he was street smart and careful and would not have traveled to Kish Island if he thought his safety would be compromised.
The Levinsons have seven children, ages 16 to 33. Their daughter, Sarah, who is getting married this year, released a letter last month pleading for the Iranians to release her father so he can walk her down the aisle.
“It would be absolutely devastating if he weren’t here for the wedding," Christine Levinson said. "I still believe he’s alive, and all I want is answers as to where he is and how he’s doing. Every day is a nightmare.”