Family of American hostage in Iran says he has died

The family of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent held hostage in Iran, said U.S. officials informed them that he is dead.

“We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the family said in a statement Wednesday.

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Levinson, who worked for 22 years as a special agent with the FBI, disappeared in Iran in 2007 while on an unsanctioned CIA intelligence-gathering mission. He is believed to be the longest-held American hostage, though Tehran has never acknowledged holding him.

The family suggested in Wednesday's statement that they will continue to seek answers from the U.S. government.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Coronavirus hits defense contractor jobs Wake up America, your country doesn't value your life MORE, when asked about the update on Levinson’s status during a briefing on the coronavirus, told reporters that the situation was “not looking good.” But the president refused to accept that Levinson had died, despite the finality of his family’s statement.

“No, I don’t accept that he’s dead,” Trump said. “It’s not looking great, but I won’t accept that he’s dead.”

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Trump praised Levinson as a “great gentleman,” saying he had been “very much involved” in his case.

Levinson's family said that "those responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, including those in the U.S. government who for many years left him behind, will ultimately receive justice for what they have done."

The family praised Trump and his administration as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle “who have done all they could to make our family whole again.”

In November, a rare recognition from the Islamic Republic and an increased monetary reward for information regarding Levinson’s whereabouts provided fresh momentum for the family to demand Levinson's release.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCoronavirus response reveals deep fractures in global partnerships Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike COVID-19 intensifies the case for blacklisting Khalifa Haftar  MORE had called for his return as early as last week.

“We also ask the regime to honor the commitment it made to work with the United States for the return of Robert Levinson,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Brett Samuels contributed

Updated: 6:55 p.m.