American hostage shown in video could be in Baluchistan

The Associated Press reports: In the nearly five years that Levinson has been missing, the U.S. government has never had solid intelligence about what happened to him. Levinson had been retired from the FBI for years and was working as a private investigator when he traveled to the Iran in March 2007. His family has said an investigation into cigarette smuggling brought him to Kish, a resort island where Americans need no visa to visit.

The prevailing U.S. government theory had been that Levinson was arrested by Iranian intelligence officials to be interrogated and used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Washington. But as every lead fizzled and Iran repeatedly denied any involvement in his disappearance, many in the U.S. government believed Levinson was probably dead.

The surprise arrival of the video, followed by a series of photographs, quickly changed that view. But they did little to settle the question of his whereabouts. The video, in fact, contained tantalizing clues suggesting Levinson was not being held in Iran at all, but rather in Pakistan, hundreds of miles from where he disappeared. The photographs, which arrived a few months after the video, contained hints that Levinson might be in Afghanistan, according to several U.S. officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the sensitive case.

The video prompted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to announce publicly in March that Levinson was alive, and she urged the Iranians to help find him. Though the legacy of the 1979 hostage standoff with Iran looms over all relations between the two countries, Clinton did not refer to Levinson as a hostage in March and she softened the U.S. rhetoric toward Tehran.

The video also helped initiate a series of discreet discussions between U.S. and Iranian officials, conversations that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in September were producing good results.

Not long after Clinton’s remarks, the Levinson family received a series of photos of Levinson dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit like the ones worn by detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In these photos, Levinson’s hair and beard were much longer and he looked thinner.

In each photo, he wore a different sign hung around his neck. One read, “Why you can not help me.”

Investigators determined that the video was routed through an Internet address in Pakistan, suggesting that Levinson might be held there. Also, Pashtun wedding music played faintly in the background, officials said. The Pashtun people live primarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan, just over Iran’s eastern border.

The photos, however, traced back to a different Internet address, this one in Afghanistan.

Authorities don’t know whether those clues mean Levinson was being held in Balochistan – a rugged, arid region that spans parts of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan – or perhaps in the lawless tribal region along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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