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U.S. now believes Iran's behind retired FBI agent's kidnapping

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 8:18 p.m.
This undated handout photo provided by the family of Robert Levinson, shows retired-FBI agent Robert Levinson. Levinson, 64, went missing on the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007. Levinson's family received these photographs of him in April 2011. U.S officials suspect the Iranians or its proxies are holding Levinson hostage. (AP Photo/Levinson Family)

WASHINGTON — Two years after a hostage video and photographs of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson raised the possibility that the missing American was being held by terrorists, U.S. officials believe Iran is behind the images, intelligence officials told The Associated Press.

Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared in 2007 on Iran's island of Kish. Iran repeatedly has denied knowing anything about his disappearance.

The extraordinary photos that his family received in late 2010 and early 2011 — showing Levinson's unkempt, his hair wild and gray, and his beard long — are being seen for the first time publicly because the family provided copies to the AP. The video previously was released.

In response to Iran's repeated denials, and amid secret conversations with Iranian officials, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement in March 2011 that Levinson was being held somewhere in South Asia. The implication was that Levinson, 64, might be in the hands of a terrorist group or criminal organization somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The statement was a goodwill gesture to Iran, one that the United States hoped would prod Iran to bring him home.

But nothing happened.

Two years later, with the investigation stalled, the consensus now among some U.S. officials involved in the case is that despite years of denials, Iran's intelligence service almost certainly was behind the 54-second video and five photographs of Levinson emailed anonymously to his family. The trade craft used to send those items was too good — indicating professional spies were behind them, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The photos portray Levinson in an orange jumpsuit like those worn by detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. The family received them via email in April 2011. In each photo, he held a sign bearing a different message.

“I am here in Guantanamo,” one said. “Do you know where it is?”

Another: “This is the result of 30 years serving for USA.”

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly has criticized the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

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