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US probes Iranian hostage links -

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US probes Iranian hostage links

AM - Friday, 1 July , 2005 08:20:00

Reporter: Michael Rowland

TONY EASTLEY: The United States is investigating claims that Iran's new hardline president was a
ringleader of the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, in which 52 Americans were held
hostage for 444 days.

Several former hostages believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the radical Islamic students who
stormed the embassy after the US refused to return for trial the exiled Shah of Iran for trial.

One of the hostages recalls the new Iranian leader calling some of the American captives pigs and
dogs during their 15-month ordeal.

Washington Correspondent Michael Rowland reports.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: As photographs of the jubilant Iranian President-elect flashed around the world
last week, former US Naval Attache Don Sharer had a strange sensation.

DON SHARER: As soon as I saw the face it rang a lot of bells to me.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The last time Mr Sharer claims he saw the new president's face was back in 1979 at
the US Embassy in Tehran. Mr Sharer believes Mr Ahmadinejad was one of the militant Iranian
students who'd seized the building, taking 52 Americans hostage.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: But he still looked like a man - take 20 years off of him, he was there, he was
there in the background, more like an adviser, and one other incident, he just called Colonel Scott
and myself pigs and dogs and we deserved to be locked up forever.

So when you're placed in a life-threatening situation of that nature, you just, you remember those
things.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Also not forgetting is another former hostage, William Daugherty.

WILLIAM DAUGHERTY: He was around the groups, he would come in, question the guards, more or less
checking on things when sort of dignitaries would come through. There would be a group of the
Iranian leadership - the student leadership - that would escort them as we were put on display, as
it were, and he would be part of that.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: At least five of the former hostages believe the new Iranian leader was a key
figure in their 444-day ordeal and President George W. Bush, already apprehensive about the Mr
Ahmadinejad 's election, is taking their claims very seriously.

President Bush says the allegation raise many questions and the State Department spokesman Sean
McCormack says the matter will be investigated.

SEAN MCCORMACK: And I want to assure you that we are going to look into this question seriously -
we as a government are working to establish the facts surrounding the story. But I do want to say
one thing, and that is to underscore the fact that we have not forgotten. We have not forgotten the
fact that 51 of our diplomats were held for 444 days, that they were taken hostage, the Secretary
of State takes very seriously her responsibility to protect as best she can the men and women of
the State Department and those who serve in our embassies abroad.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: But not all the former hostages believe the new Iranian leader has a dark secret.
The US defence attaché at the embassy, Colonel Tom Schaeffer, says he doesn't recognise Mr
Ahmadinejad, and some of the actual hostage-takers also deny the President-elect took part in the
takeover.

An aide to the new president says that although Mr Ahmadinejad was a member of the student
organisation that planned the seizure, he wasn't involved.

This is Michael Rowland in Washington for AM.