An FBI agent who went missing in Iran years ago is believed dead, his family said.
U.S. officials told the family of Robert Levinson, who disappeared 13 years ago on an unofficial CIA mission, that he is believed to have died while in Iranian custody, his family said, according to The Washington Times. The Trump administration also confirmed Wednesday that it believes Levinson “passed away some time ago,” the Associated Press reported.
“It is impossible to describe our pain,” the family said in a statement. “Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man, a new reality that is inconceivable to us.”
A horrific crime
The U.S. government has long said that Levinson was taken captive by the Iranian regime, but Iran has denied knowing anything about his whereabouts. According to the AP, the retired FBI veteran disappeared on Iran’s Kish island in 2007.
The U.S. government initially said that he was there on personal business, according to NBC News, but it was eventually uncovered that he was on an unauthorized mission for the CIA. He is believed to be the longest-held captive in American history.
For years, Levinson’s family had fought for his recovery with no luck. Traces of Levinson surfaced in 2010 and 2011 when his family received photos of Levinson and a video of him with a long beard wearing an orange jumpsuit.
Levinson is believed to have died before the coronavirus outbreak started ravaging Iran, but little is known about when or how he died, his family said. The family also does not know if they will ever recover his body. In their statement, they blamed Iran and years of inaction by the U.S. government for his death, even as they expressed thanks to Donald Trump and members of his administration for their efforts to “make our family whole again.”
“Those who are responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, including those in the U.S. government who for many years repeatedly left him behind, will ultimately receive justice for what they have done,” the family wrote, according to NBC. “We will spend the rest of our lives making sure of this, and the Iranian regime must know we will not be going away.”
FBI Agents Association expressed its sympathy over Levinson’s death in a statement and vowed to “support all efforts to bring to justice those responsible for this horrific crime,” The Washington Post reported.
“The very definition of cruelty”
President Trump had said at a press conference Wednesday that he “won’t accept that he’s dead,” though he acknowledged that “it’s not looking promising,” NBC noted. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, later clarified that Levinson was presumed dead.
“As President Trump said today, Iran must provide a complete accounting of what occurred with Bob Levinson before the United States can fully accept what happened in this case,” O’Brien said, according to CBS News. “While the investigation is ongoing, we believe that Bob Levinson may have passed away some time ago.”
In their statement, the Levinson family thanked a bipartisan group of lawmakers and their staff who “fought for Bob Levinson in every possible way” — namely, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D), and Rep. Ted Deutsch (D-FL). They said that they expect “American officials, as well as officials around the world, to continue to press Iran to seek Bob’s return” and to hold those responsible for his death accountable.
“Bob Levinson should have spent his last moments surrounded by his family and all the love we feel for him. Instead, he died alone, in captivity thousands of miles away, in unbelievable suffering,” his family wrote, according to ABC News. “His body has not yet been returned to us for a proper burial. We don’t know when, or even if, his body would be returned to us. This is the very definition of cruelty.”
The news comes weeks after a federal judge in Washington ruled officially that Iran was responsible for kidnapping Levinson, The Washington Times reported.