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Trump administration sanctions two Iranians over abduction, likely death of American hostage Robert Levinson

Trump administration sanctions two Iranians over abduction, likely death of American hostage Robert Levinson
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The Trump administration on Monday sanctioned two Iranian intelligence officers, saying they were involved in the abduction, detention and likely death of Robert Levinson, an American and former FBI agent who disappeared in 2007.

Officials said that the Treasury Department is sanctioning two officials in Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, for their role in Levinson’s abduction, detention and probable death. 

A U.S. government official told reporters that the ongoing investigation into Levinson’s kidnapping determined that senior Iranian officials “sanctioned” Levinson’s abduction and detention and carried out a disinformation campaign to “obfuscate their responsibility.”

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The news was welcomed by Levinson’s family, who called it “one step in a long road toward achieving justice for him, but it is an important one.”

“Robert Levinson will never come home to his family alive because of the cruel, cynical and inhumane actions of the Iranian authorities. Because of these men and others like them, our wonderful husband, father and grandfather died alone, thousands of miles from everyone he loved,” his family said in a statement to The Hill.

“We wish to thank the Trump Administration, including the National Security Advisor, the State Department and the Treasury Department, for today's announcement, with special appreciation to the men and women of the F.B.I. who are dedicated to Bob's case. No matter how long it takes, we will find the individuals who are responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, and we will hold them accountable.”

Levinson, the longest-held hostage in U.S. history, disappeared nearly 14 years ago on Kish Island, an island off the coast of Iran. His family said in March that they concluded that Levinson had died while in Iranian custody based on information received from U.S. officials. Iran has long denied having any knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts.

Officials declined to discuss what new information led them to issue Monday’s designations, saying that doing so would compromise intelligence sources and methods.

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The move comes just over a month before President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE, who has taken an aggressive approach on Iran, leaves office. Officials said the timing of the designation was a result of the lengthy process needed to approve the decision.

“The government of Iran pledged to provide assistance in bringing Bob Levinson home, but it has never followed through. The truth is that Iranian intelligence officers — with the approval of senior Iranian officials — were involved in Bob’s abduction and detention,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

Wray pledged that the bureau “will never waver from our commitment to find out more about Bob’s long captivity, to give the Levinson family the answers they deserve, and to finally bring Bob home.” 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE called Levinson’s abduction an “outrageous example of the Iranian regime’s willingness to commit unjust acts.”

The latest move is likely to further exacerbate tensions between Washington and Tehran, potentially complicating President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE’s plans to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from during his tenure.

“There should be no agreement negotiated with Iran ever again that doesn’t free the Americans who are unjustly detained in that country,” a senior government official said Monday.

“We all expect a negotiation next year. That negotiation must include the return home of all the Americans unjustly detained in that country.”

Currently, there are three other American hostages being detained in Iran.

Laura Kelly contributed to this report, which was updated at 11:03 a.m.