Iran confirmed Friday for the first time that it is holding an Iranian-American peace activist, the fourth dual citizen it has detained in recent months, according to a semiofficial news agency.
Ali Shakeri of Lake Forest, Calif., was being held on security-related charges and investigated by the security department of the Tehran prosecutor’s office, the Iranian Student News Agency reported. It provided no source for the information and calls to Iranian judicial officials were not immediately returned Friday, a weekend day in the Islamic country.
ISNA said in a four-sentence report on its Web site that Shakeri had been detained “some time ago.”
It was not immediately clear if he was being represented by a lawyer.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday the detentions show “what kind of regime this is.” But Rice said the situation was not akin to the seizure of U.S. diplomats three decades ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the top U.S. diplomat said the detentions are unwarranted but will not stop the United States from trying to engage Iran on other matters, including its disputed nuclear program and alleged support of insurgents in Iraq.
“We take seriously the holding of any American anywhere in the world where they are being wrongly held and where they are being accused of things that clearly are untrue,” Rice said.
Was to have left Iran on May 13
ISNA was the only Iranian news agency to report that Shakeri was being held. The news agency, which is informally affiliated with Iran’s Higher Education Ministry, is often used by Iranian officials for leaking information and testing public opinion reaction to sensitive cases.
The State Department had said Shakeri, a founding board member of the University of California, Irvine, Center for Citizen Peacebuilding — who was supposed to have left Iran for Europe on May 13 but never arrived at his destination — was being held at a notorious prison in Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Ministry and judicial officials have confirmed the detention on accusations of espionage of three other Iranian-Americans held in Iran: scholar Haleh Esfandiari, who is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant with George Soros’ Open Society Institute; and journalist Parnaz Azima, who works for U.S. funded-Radio Farda.
The three have been charged with endangering Iran’s national security and espionage, according to a judiciary spokesman. It was not immediately known if Shakeri also was charged.
All were in Iran visiting family members or engaged in professional work, according to the State Department and their relatives and employers.
Bush demands release
President Bush had demanded that Iran “immediately and unconditionally” release the four and has denied that they were spying for the U.S. Family, colleagues and employers also have denied the allegations.
Bush’s remarks drew sharp criticism from Iranian officials. Earlier this week, Iran accused Bush of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.
Iran in recent weeks has escalated accusations against the U.S., saying it had uncovered spy rings organized by the U.S. and its Western allies.
The State Department has warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Iran, accusing Iranian authorities of a “disturbing pattern” of harassment of Iranian-Americans.
The U.S. has also expressed concern about former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran while on private business there in March.