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Iranian agents rescue diplomat kidnapped in Pakistan

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ALI AKBAR DAREINI

TEHRAN: Iran’s intelligence agents mounted a “complicated” cross-border mission and freed an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in 2008 by gunmen in northwestern Pakistan, state television reported Tuesday.

The agents rescued Heshmatollah Attarzadeh of Iran’s Peshawar consulate “in a complicated intelligence operation” and took him back to Iran the report said.

Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said that Iran had asked Pakistan to free the diplomat, but after it failed to do the job, Tehran had handled the problem itself.

“We have a high intelligence capability in the region,” he said. “We have a good intelligence dominance over all other secret agencies active in the region,” he added, accusing US and Israeli intelligence agencies of supporting the kidnappers.

A senior Pakistani security official, however, maintained that Pakistani intelligence did help in the rescue operation.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, did not provide any further details.

Attarzadeh and his Pakistani bodyguard were driving over a narrow bridge in Peshawar on Nov. 13, 2008 when two gunmen blocked their way with a car and opened fire. The attackers fled with the diplomat after killing the guard.

Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and borders the largely autonomous tribal regions, parts of which have become strongholds for Taleban and Al-Qaeda militants who have staged repeated attacks against the city.

In the 1980s, Peshawar was an intrigue-filled hub for US-backed guerrillas fighting Soviet troops in neighboring Afghanistan, some of whom went on to form the Taleban or Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden, now perhaps hiding in the adjacent tribal regions, was among them.

Despite that legacy, the city of some 2 million people was once considered relatively safe for foreigners. But organized crime and militancy are on the rise – and increasingly hard to distinguish – and it was possible that the Iranian was kidnapped for ransom.

A year after Attarzadeh was kidnapped, a Pakistani employee of the same Iranian consulate was gunned down near his home.

Iran is mostly Shiite and is regularly denounced by the fiercely Sunni Al-Qaeda and Taleban that operates along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Hard-line Sunnis consider Shiites to be heretics and often call for attacks against them.

The operation marks the latest success by Iran’s intelligence services broadcast to be announced on television. Last month, Iran captured Abdulmalik Rigi, leader of an armed Sunni opposition group whose insurgency in southeast Iran had destabilized the border region with Pakistan.

Rigi was captured on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan last month after he had left Pakistan. The Pakistani government claimed that Rigi’s capture would have not been possible without Islamabad’s cooperation but Iran insisted that its intelligence agents alone captured the terrorist leader.

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