June 30, 2005

Iran president-elect no hostage-taker, leaders say

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Two leading figures in the 1979 seizureof the U.S. embassy in Iran denied on Thursday reportspresident-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took part in the 444-dayhostage drama which led Washington to break ties with Tehran.

"Ahmadinejad was not among those who occupied the Americanembassy after the revolution," said Abbas Abdi, who helped toorchestrate the raid on the embassy and the seizure of itsstaff after the Islamic revolution.

Fifty-two Americans were held for 444 days. Washingtonsevered ties with Tehran in 1980 and has branded Iran as partof an "axis of evil" for allegedly pursuing nuclear arms andsponsoring terrorism. Iran denies the charges.

In an interview with the Washington Times newspaper, threeAmericans held hostage in the Islamic state said theyremembered Ahmadinejad, who won Iran's presidential election bya landslide last week, as a key player in the seizure.

"He was one of the top two or three leaders," said retiredArmy Col. Charles Scott, 73, a former hostage. "The newpresident of Iran is a terrorist."

But Abdi, a former revolutionary student turned radicalreformer who was jailed in 2002 for selling intelligence toforeigners including the U.S.-based polling company Gallup,said the former American hostages had poor memories.

The Times said Ahmadinejad was a 23-year-old universitystudent at the time of the takeover in November 1979 and was afounding member of the radical student group that organized thestorming of the U.S. Embassy compound.

Mohsen Mirdamadi, another ringleader of the hostage-takingdrama in Tehran, rejected the Times report.

"I deny such reports. Ahmadinejad was not a member of theradical students' group who seized the embassy," saidMirdamadi, a former lawmaker.

Like many of the former hostage-takers, Mirdamadi is now anoutspoken proponent of the need to reform Iran's Islamicpolitical system.

The president-elect's office has denied he helped storm theembassy.

Opponents of Ahmadinejad, a former member of Iran'shardline Revolutionary Guards, accused him in the electioncampaign of engaging in cross-border underground operationsduring the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. His allies vehemently deniedthe charge.