Tehran has said a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago had left the country a long time ago, despite his family saying a day earlier that he had died in Iranian custody.
The FBI won't give up on "finding out what happened" to former agent Robert Levinson, who the usa government believes died in the custody of the Iranians, according to an email FBI Director Chris Wray sent to the FBI workforce on Thursday.
Levinson's family thanked Donald Trump and his administration for doing all they could "to make our family whole again" but they blamed other, unnamed USA officials for their lack of action.
He added, in apparent reference to what US officials had told the family: "They've been making the statement to the family, I believe".
Levinson had been "sick for a long time" before he was detained, Trump said, adding that he felt "terribly" for the family but still had some hope that Levinson was alive.More news: United States becomes coronavirus global epicentre, surpasses total cases in China
"Iran must provide a complete accounting of what occurred with Bob Levinson".
Mr Levinson's wife says he disappeared on the Iranian island of Kish in 2007, working as a private investigator.
However, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday, based on what he called credible evidence, Levinson had left Iran "years ago" for an unspecified destination.
Other reports suggest he was working for the Central Intelligence Agency to recruit an Iranian spy.
The president acknowledged the speculation Levinson could be dead, but said he will continue to work on his case. "He was an American hero-a true patriot, and his compassion and kindness knew no bounds", said his family.More news: Plenty of companies hiring during pandemic
"Today with aching hearts, we are sharing devastating news about Robert Levinson, the head of our family", they said in a statement.
However, his national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said he believed Levinson "may have passed away some time ago". "Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most wonderful man, a new reality that is inconceivable to us". They will only know him through the stories we tell them'.
The Levinson family thanked multiple US officials for their help, including FBI Director Chris Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Robert O'Brien, the Trump administration's national security adviser. The outlet noted that Levinson was "the longest-held hostage in USA history". "He will never be forgotten - we will make sure of it". He was a great gentleman, and a great family.
Levinson, who suffered from diabetes, was last seen in a hostage video sent anonymously to the family in 2010, and then in still photographs three years later in which he was wearing an orange jumpsuit, of the kind used in the USA detention camp on Guantánamo Bay. Even then, his whereabouts and fate were not known.
The household mentioned Levinson died earlier than the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Iran onerous and led authorities to launch hundreds of prisoners briefly. Last year, for the first time, Tehran admitted that it had an open court case against him, saying in a letter to the United Nations that the case was ongoing, and giving no further details.More news: Coronavirus Fight Back: Dyson to Produce 15,000 Ventilators