Lebanese arrested in Iran during an official visit , update


نزار زكاNizar ZakkaIran has arrested a US based Lebanese on suspicion of having links to the U.S. intelligence community, bringing to five the number of Americans held in Iran, state television reported on Tuesday.

The television report did not give details of when or where the suspect had been arrested but identified him as Nizar Zakka and said he was suspected of “multiple close ties to the U.S. military and intelligence communities.”

Meanwhile the Arab Organization for Informatics and Communications ( IJMA3), announced that Zakka disappeared during an official visit to the Iranian capital Tehran last September while on his way to the Airport

Zakka is reportedly the Secretary General of IJMA3 and was invited by an Iranian organization to give a speech at an international  conference . He left his hotel as soon as he delivered his speech , but disappeared on the way to the airport .

Zakka  reportedly received an invitation from the Vice President of Women and Family Affairs in Iran, Ms. Shahynodcht Mulorda, to attend the  international conference  on the role of women in sustainable development, under the title “Entrepreneurship and Employment” of women.

Four Iranian-Americans are also being held in Iran. They include Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has been held since July last year on spy charges.

His employer says he has been found guilty in an “outrageous injustice”. Iranian officials have not detailed the charges of which he has been convicted but have said that he can appeal.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said Iran is trying to resolve Rezaian’s case “from a humanitarian point of view”.

Tehran does not recognize dual nationality for its citizens.

An Iranian-American businessman who advocated better ties between Iran and the U.S. reportedly has also recently been arrested and imprisoned in Tehran. He is the fourth U.S. citizen known to be held there .
The reasons why Siamak Namazi would be detained were not immediately known.

Namazi, the son of a politician from the era of the shah, had been specifically criticized in hard-line commentary this year as Iranian conservatives warned against easing hostilities with the U.S.

With AFP , Washington Post,  Al Araby


Update  and correction

Zakka is not Lebanese -American . He  holds the  Lebanese nationality only  , but is a US  permanent resident ( green card holder)  . For this reason the title of the article was changed to Lebanese instead of Lebanese -American. 

Those who know Zakka said an image of him in army-style fatigues shown on Iranian state TV came from him recently taking part in a homecoming parade as an alumnus of his military high school in Georgia.

Jim Benson, the president of Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, said state TV even identified the wrong man in the image as Zakka.

“He’s a good and decent man. There’s nothing subversive about him,” Benson told The Associated Press. “We’re terribly worried about him and concerned about how his family is taking all of this.”

Zakka disappeared Sept. 18 while visiting Tehran for a state-sponsored conference, according to a statement from the Washington-based group IJMA3-USA, which advocates for Internet freedom across the Middle East. Zakka was last seen leaving his hotel in a taxi for the airport to fly to Beirut, but he never boarded his flight, according to a statement last week signed by Lebanese lawyer Antoine Abou Dib.

Reached Tuesday by The Associated Press, Abou Dib said he had not heard of the Iranian claim and declined to immediately comment. IJMA3-USA did not immediately return a request for comment.

Later Tuesday, Abu Dib told Lebanon’s LBCI TV station that Zakka’s family has not received any official information about him, despite repeated requests to authorities in Tehran and Beirut. The lawyer said Zakka holds only Lebanese citizenship and has never had any links with any foreign intelligence agencies.

Through his lawyer, the Zakka family said they were “shocked by these false accusations,” and stressed that he has no “relation with any military, security institution or secret services whatsoever.”

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said officials were aware of Zakka’s case. However, “U.S. lawful permanent residents are not U.S. passport holders and would travel on the passport of their nationality,” she said. “Consular assistance would be provided by the country of the individual’s nationality.”

Lebanese officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

The state TV report claimed Zakka had “deep links” with U.S. intelligence services and its military. It also aired a still photo of four men in U.S. Army-style uniforms, two carrying flags and the other two with rifles against their shoulders.

The TV identified a man on the far right as Zakka, though Benson said Zakka was the one on the far left.

Riverside Military Academy teaches both middle-school and high-school age boys. Though borrowing from military-style structure and discipline, the school does not teach boys how to shoot nor does it have links with the U.S. military, Benson said.

“The fact that he’s in that uniform that day is nothing but a one day in one year event where he was representing the alumni of his class in the color guard,” Benson said.

Riverside’s website lists Zakka as an alumnus and describes him as “an internationally recognized expert in information and communications technology (ICT) policy.” It said he graduated from the academy in 1985 and later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from the University of Texas.