The family of a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007 released a proof-of-life video on Friday showing him held hostage by unknown kidnappers and issuing a simple plea to US officials: “please help me get home.”
American Robert Levinson appeared weary and thin, but unharmed in the footage, the first substantial evidence that he is alive and being held against his will.
The video, posted by his family on their Web site, was accompanied by a video of his wife and son pleading to his captors to free the 63-year-old father of seven.
“I have been treated well, but I need the help of the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me for three-and-a-half years,” Levinson said in the 54-second clip in which he is shown seated in front of what appears to be a gray concrete wall.
“I am not in very good health. I am running very quickly out of diabetes medicine,” he said. “Please help me get home. Thirty-three years of service to the United States deserves something. Please help me.”
A former US State Department official familiar with the case said that the video was accompanied by a demand for the release of several prisoners.
The video did not reveal where Levinson is being held, or by whom, and it was not immediately clear when it was made. If Levinson’s statement about how long he has been held is accurate, that would make the video about 15 months old.
Mystery shrouds the fate of Levinson, who disappeared on Iran’s Kish Island in March 2007.
Christine Levinson says her husband, who retired from the FBI more than a decade ago, had traveled to Kish as a private investigator to look into cigarette counterfeiting in the region and was last heard from on March 8, 2007.
US officials have been poring over the video for clues, including Levinson’s remarks in which he described a “group” holding him hostage, suggesting it may be a terror network or crime cartel rather than a government.
He also said he had been held “here” during his captivity, suggesting he had not been moved to different locations.
Iran has denied holding Levinson. Earlier this year, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington had received information that he was in Southwest Asia, and she called on Tehran to help locate him.
While US officials’ expressed optimism this year that Levinson was alive and progress could be made in the case, the family’s decision to publicly release the video and make a direct, open appeal to Levinson’s captors suggests that diplomatic efforts have yielded little.
“If it has gotten to a point where the US government is really running out of options, maybe [the family] has to do things that haven’t yet been done, such as going public and increasing the pressure on Iran,” National Iranian American Council research director Reza Marashi said.
While it remained unclear where Levinson was being held — the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan are possibilities — “it’s going to take the Iranian government to say: ‘Let him go’ in order for him to be released,” Marashi added.
The video was released at a time of heightened political -tensions between Tehran and Washington over Iran’s nuclear program, and as the US Department of Justice accuses Iran of masterminding a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. More recently, the Islamic republic claimed it brought down a US drone and televised images of what it said was the captured unmanned aircraft.