TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran said Tuesday that its intelligence agents had rescued an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Pakistan in 2008 and returned him to the Islamic Republic.
Unidentified gunmen kidnapped Heshmatollah Attarzadeh Niyaki, the commercial attache at Iran’s consulate in Peshawar, on November 13, 2008 on his way to the consulate from his home, shooting dead a policeman guarding him.
“Iran’s intelligence agents freed our kidnapped diplomat in a sophisticated operation,” Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi told state television. “He has safely returned to Iran.”
Moslehi gave no further information on the operation, and Abbas Ali Abdullahi, head of the Iranian consulate in Peshawar, told Reuters he had “no information about where he was recovered.”
Suspicion for the kidnapping fell on the Taliban and affiliated Sunni Muslim militant groups such as al Qaeda, who hate Shi’ite Muslims and predominantly Shi’ite Iran almost as much as they hate the West.
But criminal gangs, which at times use religion as a cover, are also active in the area. Iran condemned the kidnapping at the time as a “terrorist act.”
Peshawar, 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, became a den of spies and jihadis in the 1980s when the United States and Saudi Arabia covertly funded an Islamist guerrilla war to expel Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
A senior Afghan diplomat was kidnapped in the city weeks before Niyaki was abducted. He is still missing. U.S. diplomats have also been attacked in the city.
Pakistan and Iran have been trying to improve relations recently as neighbors and regional players, preparing for the U.S.-led alliance to start withdrawing its troops in 2011.
Iran’s arrest of the leader of the Sunni rebel group Jundollah, with possible help from Pakistan, was the latest sign of their new cooperation. Abdolmalek Rigi was arrested in February in Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
Iran has linked Jundollah (God’s soldiers) to the Sunni Islamist al Qaeda network, accusing Pakistan, Britain and the United States of backing the rebel group to destabilize the country, a charge all three deny.
Moslehi said the presence of Western powers had destabilized the region. “The presence of American, Israeli and European intelligence services in the area … had no result but insecurity in the region,” Moslehi said.
Jundollah, which accuses the Iranian government of discrimination against Sunnis, said it was behind an October 18 attack, the deadliest in Iran since the 1980s, that killed more than 40 Iranians, including 15 elite Revolutionary Guards.