| Iranian President-elect Mahmood Ahmadinejad
London, June 30: The White House is exploring allegations that the new President-elect of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was involved in the 1979 American embassy siege in Tehran.
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary said today that the Bush Administration was taking reports that American hostages remember Ahmadinejad taking part in the hostage crisis “very seriously”.
Ahmadinejad’s role in the crisis is disputed and rumours of his direct involvement are widely dismissed by insiders in Iran, including known hostage takers.
But McClellan said today: “I think the news reports and statements from several former American hostages raise many questions about his past. We take them very seriously and we are looking into them to better understand the facts.”
Five men held hostage during the siege identified Ahmadinejad as one of their captors yesterday. Four of the former hostages e-mailed each other after watching television coverage of the Iranian elections to share their surprise at recognising Ahmadinejad 25 years after the siege, which lasted 444 days and has darkened relations between America and Iran ever since.
“This is the guy. There’s no question about it,” said Chuck Scott, a 73-year old retired Army colonel and one of 52 Americans that were taken hostage for more than a year after the Iranian Revolution.
“You could make him a blond and shave his whiskers, put him in a zoot suit and I’d still spot him.”
Scott and former hostages David Roeder, William J. Daugherty and Don A. Sharer all told the Associated Press yesterday that they had no doubt that Ahmadinejad, elected last week as the new President of Iran, was one of the hostage takers.
Both Scott and Roeder, who worked for the CIA in Iran, said that Ahmadinejad, who takes office on August 4, had a senior role among militants who took over the embassy and was present when they were interrogated.
“I can absolutely guarantee you he was not only one of the hostage takers, he was present at my personal interrogation,” said Roeder. “It was almost like he was checking on the interrogation techniques they were using in a sort of adviser capacity.”
A fifth hostage, Kevin Hermening confirmed his memory of Ahmadinejad after looking at recent photographs. Other hostages have said that they cannot specifically recall Ahmadinejad taking part in the siege.
“My memories were more of the gun barrel, not the people behind it,” said Paul Lewis, a former Marine who was guarding the embassy when it was captured on November 4, 1979.
The five men made their statements at the same time as an Iranian Opposition news agency circulated a photograph from 1979 claiming to show Ahmadinejad, the former mayor of Tehran, holding a blindfolded American hostage by the arm.
John Simpson, the BBC broadcaster, has also alluded to Ahmadinejad’s role in the hostage crisis. In an article published on the BBC website on Tuesday, he recalled meeting the President-elect after the siege and then remembered seeing him in the embassy grounds.
And speaking on BBC television today, Simpson reaffirmed his belief, saying he was “pretty sure” that Ahmadinejad had been among the militant students who directed the siege.
Claims of Ahmadinejad’s involvement in the siege have met widespread scepticism in Iran. Meisan Rowhani, an aide to the President-elect, said yesterday that Ahmadinejad had opposed the siege until Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution, announced his support for it.
The embassy was seized by militant students after the American government refused to extradite the Shah of Iran to face trial after the Iranian Revolution.
Although Mr Ahmadinejad is known to have been a
founding member of the OSU, the student group
primarily responsible for seizing the American
embassy, other hostage takers insist he played no part
in the actual attack on the mission.
In fact, not a single hostage taker, many of whom have
become politicians and critics of Iran's authoritarian
government, has identified Mr Ahmadinejad as playing
an active role in the capture of the embassy.
"Definitely he was not among the students who took
part in the seizure," said Abbas Abdi, one of the
leaders of the siege who later became a reformer and
has been imprisoned for his resistance to Iran's
"He was not part of us. He played no role in the
seizure, let alone being responsible for security; for
the students," said Mr Abdi.
Another of the hostage takers, Bijan Abidi, agreed,
saying Ahmadinejad "was not involved. There was no one
by that name among the students who took part in the
US Embassy seizure."
Mohsen Mirdamadi, a hostage taker who, like many of
the other militant students went on to become a member
of parliament, added his voice to the denials: "Mr
Ahmadinejad was never one of students following the
path of the imam that took the spy den (US embassy).
He was never there."