Iran’s intelligence agents freed an Iranian diplomat kidnapped by gunmen two years earlier in north-western Pakistan, state television reported on Tuesday.
The agents rescued Heshmatollah Attarzadeh of Iran’s Peshawar consulate “in a complicated intelligence operation” the report said, without providing any further details.
The diplomat and his Pakistani bodyguard were driving over a narrow bridge in Peshawar on November 13, 2008 when two gunmen blocked their way with a car and opened fire. The attackers fled with the diplomat, and the guard was killed.
In the 1980s, Peshawar was an intrigue—filled hub for U.S.—backed guerrillas fighting Soviet troops in neighbouring Afghanistan, some of whom went on to form the Taliban or al—Qaeda. Osama bin Laden, now perhaps hiding in the adjacent tribal regions, was among them.
Despite that legacy, the city of some 2 million people was once considered relatively safe for foreigners. But residents say organized crime and militancy are on the rise - and increasingly hard to distinguish - and it was possible that the Iranian was kidnapped for ransom.
Growing pockets of the nearby tribal belt have become strongholds for various extremist groups.
A year after Attarzadeh was kidnapped, a Pakistani employee of the same Iranian consulate was gunned down near his home.
Iran is mostly Shiite and is regularly denounced by the fiercely Sunni al—Qaeda and Taliban that operates along the Afghan—Pakistan border.
Hardline Sunnis consider Shiites to be heretics and often call for attacks against them.
The operation marks the latest success by Iran’s intelligence services broadcast on television. Last month, Iran captured Abdulmalik Rigi, leader of an armed Sunni opposition group whose insurgency in southeast Iran had destabilized the border region with Pakistan.
Rigi was captured on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan last month after he had left Pakistan. The Pakistani government claimed that Rigi’s capture would have not been possible without Islamabad’s cooperation but Iran insisted that its intelligence agents alone captured the terrorist leader.