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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 TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 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 PompeoMike PompeoUS intel: Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing Golden statue of Trump at CPAC ridiculed online Five things to watch at CPAC 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.