June 30, 2005

Iranian leader linked to 1979 hostage crisis

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Americans held hostage inthe 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran said on Thursday theyrecognized Iran's president-elect as a ringleader from thedrama, a claim that raised concern in the White House but wasdenied in Iran.

In interviews with U.S. television networks, retired NavyCapt. Donald Sharer and Bill Daugherty said they were convincedIran's ultra-conservative President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejadwas one of their Iranian captors.

"He wasn't a very nice fellow at the time. He called uspigs and dogs. He's very hard-line, he's a guy we are not goingto get along with," said Sharer in an interview with ABC's"Good Morning America" show.

The White House said it was concerned about theimplications of the former hostages' statements and was lookinginto the claims.

"I think the news reports and statements from severalformer American hostages raise many questions about his past,"White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "We take them veryseriously and we are looking into them to better understand thefacts."

The Bush administration has said little about Ahmadinejad,Tehran's hard-line mayor, since his election as president onFriday in a landslide victory, but U.S. officials havecriticized the election itself as flawed and unfair.

Daugherty said he had "no doubts at all" that Ahmadinejadwas one of his hostage-takers.

"When your country is being humiliated and beingembarrassed, the individuals that do that really stick in yourmind. You don't forget people who do things like that to youand your family and your country," said Daugherty.

In Iran, two leading figures in the seizure of the U.S.Embassy denied Ahmadinejad took part in the hostage drama thatled 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 and the seizure of embassy staff ninemonths after the Islamic revolution.


Mohsen Mirdamadi, another ringleader of the hostage-takingdrama in Tehran, also rejected the reports.

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

The young militants involved in the embassy takeover havefollowed different career paths in the past 25 years. Some wereappointed to government jobs or elected to parliament. Someturned into radical reformers and challenged the ruling Shi'iteclerics, and a number of them, including Abdi, have spentseveral years in prison.

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

Asked to comment on denials from Iran, Sharer told NBC's"Today" show he remembered the new president as one of the"cruel" ringleaders.

"All I can say is I remember the fellow being verycruel-like, stern, a very narrow beady-eyed character. I can'tcomment on what they are saying politically now. They areprobably trying to cover their tracks and make the rest of theworld think he was not involved," said Sharer.

Another ex-hostage, retired Army Col. Charles Scott, 73,told The Washington Times the president-elect was one of two orthree top leaders involved in the hostage crisis.

"As soon as I saw his picture in the paper, I knew that wasthe bastard," said Scott, of Jonesboro, Georgia. "The newpresident of Iran is a terrorist."

Kevin Hermening of Mosinee, Wisconsin, a 20-year-old Marinesecurity guard when the embassy was stormed, told the paper hehad contact with Ahmadinejad right after the takeover.

"He was involved in interrogating me the day we were takencaptive," Hermening was quoted as saying. He said interrogatorssought the combinations for "safes and other things that werelocked."

(Additional reporting by Joanne Allen and Caren Bohan inWashington and Parisa Hafezi in Tehran)