US blames Iran in abduction, death of ex-FBI agent Levinson

US blames Iran in abduction, death of ex-FBI agent Levinson
In this March 6, 2012, file photo, an FBI poster showing a composite image of former FBI agent Robert Levinson. At right, is a photo of how he would look like after five years in captivity, and an image, center, taken from the video, released by his kidnappers, and a picture before he was kidnapped, left, displayed during a news conference in Washington. (AP)
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Updated 16 December 2020

US blames Iran in abduction, death of ex-FBI agent Levinson

US blames Iran in abduction, death of ex-FBI agent Levinson
  • Monday’s announcement in the final weeks of the Trump administration was the most definitive assignment of blame to date

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration for the first time on Monday formally blamed Iran for the presumed death of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, publicly identifying two Iranian intelligence officers believed responsible for his abduction and imposing sanctions against them.

Levinson disappeared in Iran under mysterious circumstances more than a decade ago, and though US diplomats and investigators have long said they thought he was taken by Iranian government agents, Monday’s announcement in the final weeks of the Trump administration was the most definitive assignment of blame to date.

The announcement is the latest in a series of tough actions the Trump administration has taken toward Iran as it works to cement an aggressive posture that may complicate any efforts by incoming President Joe Biden and his national security team to radically change course once they take office next month. US officials preemptively made clear Monday that no deal with Iran should be finalized without providing for the release of Americans who remain detained there.

Besides calling out two high-ranking intelligence officers by name, US officials also said the Iranian regime sanctioned the plot that led to Levinson’s abduction and lied for years about its involvement in his disappearance through disinformation campaigns aimed at deflecting responsibility and covering up the government’s role.

“The abduction of Mr. Levinson in Iran is an outrageous example of the Iranian regime’s willingness to commit unjust acts,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The Iranian intelligence officers, Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, are alleged to have been involved in Levinson’s abduction and probable death. Under the sanctions, any property or assets they hold in the US would be frozen. Though it’s unlikely they have bank accounts in the US, the sanctions could also limit their movements or financial dealing outside Iran. The men have met with intelligence officials from other countries and also led delegations, US officials say.

There was no immediate reaction in Iranian state media Monday night to the announcement.

In a statement, the Levinson family thanked Trump administration officials and called Monday’s announcement “just one step in a long road toward achieving justice for him, but it is an important one.”

“Robert Levinson will never come home to his family alive because of the cruel, cynical and inhumane actions of the Iranian authorities,” the family said. “Because of these men and others like them, our wonderful husband, father and grandfather died alone, thousands of miles from everyone he loved.”

Monday’s announcement is the latest aggressive Trump administration action against Iran since the president two years ago withdrew from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a signature foreign policy achievement of predecessor Barack Obama.

Since then, the Trump administration has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran, reimposing a wide swath of sanctions and taking other actions, including killing the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in a drone strike at the airport in Baghdad this year.

That move, coupled with retaliatory attacks against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, stepped-up sanctions against Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Yemen and the recent killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist outside of Tehran that has been attributed to Israel, have left the impression that Trump is seeking to box in Biden when he takes office in January.

Biden has said he wants to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal but also improve and expand on it. Those prospects may prove difficult to realize if the situation escalates in the next five weeks.

Officials said they were announcing sanctions now, one month before Trump leaves office, not for any political reasons but simply because they had finally accumulated enough information to formally hold Iran accountable. They also said that no agreement with Iran should be reached in the next administration without a deal to free three Americans who they said remain imprisoned there.

The announcement comes nine months after US officials revealed that they had concluded that Levinson “may have passed some time ago” though they did not disclose at the time the information that led to that assessment. Officials on Monday would not describe any additional intelligence, except to say that all evidence they had pointed in the direction of Levinson having died in captivity.

Levinson vanished on March 9, 2007, when he was scheduled to meet a source on the Iranian island of Kish. For years, US officials would say only that Levinson was working independently on a private investigation. But a 2013 Associated Press investigation revealed that Levinson had been sent on a mission by CIA analysts who had no authority to run such an operation. He would be 72 years old now.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement that “this situation is personal because Bob served as a special agent for 22 years and will always be a part of the FBI family.”

The family received a video in late 2010 as well as proof-of-life photographs in 2011 in which he appeared disheveled with a long beard and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit like those given to detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Even then, his whereabouts and fate were not known, and the Iran government has consistently denied having any information about Levinson.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Washington held Iran liable for his disappearance, saying the country was “in no uncertain terms” responsible for Levinson’s “hostage taking and torture.”


‘Let the unicorns come!’ PIF advisor says Saudi's economic ‘pie’ is growing

‘Let the unicorns come!’ PIF advisor says Saudi's economic ‘pie’ is growing
Updated 50 sec ago

‘Let the unicorns come!’ PIF advisor says Saudi's economic ‘pie’ is growing

‘Let the unicorns come!’ PIF advisor says Saudi's economic ‘pie’ is growing

Entrepreneurship is the new growth economy, according to a leading figure in Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) as he called for business “unicorns” to come to the country.

Andrew Liveris, special advisor to the governor of the PIF, made the remarks as he discussed how economies need to diversify to embrace the digital age.

Speaking at the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh, Liveris insisted the economic “pie will get bigger”, but workers will need to be retrained to carry out the new, less traditional, jobs of the future.

Referring to start-ups that go on to achieve market valuations of over a billion dollars, Liveris said: “Let the unicorns come.”

His comments chime with those made by billionaire businessman Larry Fink at the Middle East Green Initiative Summit on Monday.

The chairman of US asset management giant BlackRock told delegates at the forum in Riyadh it will be firms producing environmentally-friendly goods and systems that will become the next billion dollar companies.

Fink said: "It’s my belief that the next 1,000 unicorns - companies that have a market valuation over a billion dollars - won’t be a search engine or media company. They will be businesses developing green hydrogen, and green agriculture, and green steel and green cement."


A slowdown in Korean economic activity; interest rates remain unchanged in Japan: Economic wrap

A slowdown in Korean economic activity; interest rates remain unchanged in Japan: Economic wrap
Getty Images
Updated 14 min 9 sec ago

A slowdown in Korean economic activity; interest rates remain unchanged in Japan: Economic wrap

A slowdown in Korean economic activity; interest rates remain unchanged in Japan: Economic wrap
  • Producer prices in Spain leaped by an annual rate of 23.6 percent in September

South Korea’s economy jumped by 4 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, slowing from the 6 percent increase it experienced in the prior period, a preliminary estimate by The Bank of Korea showed. 

Jumps in Covid-19 cases across the country have caused both private consumption and fixed investment to slow in this year’s third quarter. Meanwhile, government expenditure increased by 6.3 percent, up from last quarter's 5.3 percent growth rate.

In addition, the country’s GDP recorded a quarterly growth of 0.3 percent, dropping from 0.8 percent in the previous period, according to preliminary estimates.   

Rates to remain steady in Japan

Unlike other central banks that hiked their interest rates, the Bank of Japan is set to keep its rates on hold.

Japan has been experiencing high producer prices in the last period, yet consumer inflation remained at zero due to weak domestic demand.

The bank is expected to maintain its targets for short-term interest rate and 10-year bond yields at -0.1 percent and 0 percent respectively.

Producer prices in Europe 

Producer prices in Spain leaped by an annual rate of 23.6 percent in September, up from 17.6 percent in the previous month, official data showed. This is the highest rate since December 1977.

The hike in prices was driven by supply chain disruptions, energy shortages and last year’s low base effects.

Similarly, Sweden's producer prices soared to a record high of 17.2 percent on a yearly basis in September, expanding from 15.8 percent in August, Statistics Sweden said. 

Producer inflation has now risen for the eighth month in a row as costs of natural gas and crude oil helped fuel the increase in prices.

Singapore’s manufacturing

Singapore’s manufacturing output fell by 3.4 percent year-on-year in September, declining sharply from last month’s growth of 11 percent. Singapore Economic Development Board also said that a rise in the Delta variant cases contributed to the slip in production.

Biomedical manufacturing slumped by 35.9 percent while general manufacturing output declined by 2.7 percent in September, down from a growth rate of 6.4 percent in August. 

Manufacturing output also declined on a monthly basis in September, decreasing by 2.8 percent.


Saudi Arabia aims for 4000 factories to be automated within 5 years: Minister of industry

Saudi Arabia aims for 4000 factories to be automated within 5 years: Minister of industry
Getty Images
Updated 25 min 4 sec ago

Saudi Arabia aims for 4000 factories to be automated within 5 years: Minister of industry

Saudi Arabia aims for 4000 factories to be automated within 5 years: Minister of industry
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a fusion of advances in artificial intelligence, blockchain, robots, 3D-printing and the internet of things

The Saudi ministry of industry and mineral resources plans to convert 4000 factories from heavy reliance on expatriate workers to digital automation within 5 years, Bandar Al Khorayef told Alarabiya. 

This comes amid the ministry’s efforts to build a conducive industrial environment for SMEs, as they account for over 80 percent of the total industrial new licenses since the beging of 2021, El Khorayef noted in a previous statement. 

The minister highlighted the importance of investing in Fourth Industrial Revolution’s applications, due to its role in changing the shape of the industrial sector, in his interview to Alarabiya. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a fusion of advances in artificial intelligence, blockchain, robots, 3D-printing and the internet of things, that is expected to support Saudi’s transformation towards an innovation-based economy. 


Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack
Updated 24 min 7 sec ago

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack
  • Scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed Maza-Kuka village in Mashegu district of Niger state on Monday and opened fire during morning prayers

KANO, Nigeria: Gunmen have killed 16 worshippers at a mosque in central Nigeria, a government official said Tuesday, in the latest violence in the restive region.
Scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed Maza-Kuka village in Mashegu district of Niger state on Monday and opened fire during morning prayers, said Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, the secretary to the government.
“The bandits shot dead 16 people inside the mosque while they were praying,” Matane said.
Three worshippers were injured in the attack, one of them critically, he added.
Matane said one other person was killed in nearby Kaboji village as the gunmen fled the area.
“We are still investigating the motive of the attack and we have despatched military and police personnel to the area,” he said.
A police spokesman confirmed the attack but did not provide details.
Gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers for ransom known locally as bandits have been terrorizing communities in northwest and central Nigeria where they raid villages, killing and burning homes after looting them.
Although they are driven by financial motive, the gangs have been infiltrated by jihadists waging more than a decade-old insurgency in the northeast.
Residents in several communities in Niger state have lately reported an influx of fighters from the northeast who have been taking over remote villages.
The gangs have increasingly been abducting students and schoolchildren to extort ransom from parents and authorities.
More than 1,000 students have been kidnapped since December, but most have been released after negotiations with their captors.


Saudi Basic Industries hits year high: Market wrap

Saudi Basic Industries hits year high: Market wrap
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 29 min 25 sec ago

Saudi Basic Industries hits year high: Market wrap

Saudi Basic Industries hits year high: Market wrap
  • Retailer Jarir signed a contract to sell a land plot to Jarir Real Estate for SR97.9 million

The Tadawul All Share Index, TASI, rose by 0.01 percent to surge past 11,890 points in early trade today.

Herfy Food Services posted a net profit of SR60.1 million ($16 million) in the third quarter of the year.

Retail investors start a subscription to 1.5 million shares of Arabian Contracting Services Co. (Al Arabia) today.

Retailer Jarir signed a contract to sell a land plot to Jarir Real Estate for SR97.9 million.

Metal Manufacturer Maadaniyah shareholders to vote on 16.7 percent capital cut, SR120 mln rights issue on Nov. 23

Shipping firm Tihama said a court ruling to pay SR11.8 mln compensation to Riyadh Municipality was upheld.

Saudi Arabia Refineries Co. (SARCO) reported a 28 percent growth in net profit in the first 9 months of 2021.

Al Moammar Information Systems Co. (MIS) posted a 29 percent drop in profits for the first 9 months of 2021.

Stocks of Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) and Saudi Ground Services Co. (SGS) hit their highest levels in 52 weeks today.