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.