Yellow Ribbon Project

'Open Season': Iran Takes Another Hostage, May Have Baited D.C. Resident


Iran arrested yet another American resident on claims that he was working with U.S. intelligence services.

Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-American, works in Washington as secretary-general of the Dupont Circle-based Ijma3 group, which lobbies for the information and communications technology industry in the Middle East.

He last tweeted on Sept. 9 about Internet freedom and free expression.

On Monday, his nonprofit said in a statement that Zakka received an invitation on Sept. 11 from Iran’s vice president for Women and Family Affairs to attend the 2nd International Conference & Exhibition on Women in Sustainable Development, titled “Entrepreneurship & Employment.”

“Mr. Zakka is a global expert on ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) for economic development and ICT public policies,” Ijma3 said. “Mr. Zakka traveled to Tehran on September 14 and attended all the events of the conference.”

Zakka, who speaks English, Arabic and French, was a “featured speaker at the conference, and he also participated in roundtable discussions.”

On Sept. 18, Zakka left his hotel and headed toward the airport in Tehran to catch a flight to Beirut.

However, he never boarded his flight and never arrived in Lebanon.

“We have notified the Lebanese authorities that Mr. Zakka was missing and asked them for assistance in locating him,” said attorney Antoine Abou Dib. “To this date we do not have any official information about his whereabouts.”

Iran’s state television reported today that Zakka was suspected of “multiple close ties to the U.S. military and intelligence communities.” They aired photos of what they said was Zakka in uniform at a U.S. military base.

That may have been a photo Zakka tweeted on the Fourth of July of a color guard, though it’s unclear if he is in the photo. He also tweeted an American flag photo for the Fourth and a picture of a polo match near D.C.

In July, he tweeted a photo of a Tayyar demonstration — a political movement of Christians and Sunnis staunchly opposed to Hezbollah, Iran’s ally. The Future Movement, as it translates, is led by Saad Hariri, son of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. The UN tribunal in the Hariri murder linked the assassination to Hezbollah.

According to Zakka’s LinkedIn profile, he used to work as a software engineer at contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root in the early ’90s. He attended the American University of Beirut and lists the Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Ga., as one of his high schools.

Washington Post report Jason Rezaian, who has reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. Marine vet Amir Hekmati has been held more than four years, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini has been held for more than three years, and retired FBI agent Bob Levinson has been missing in Iran and held by unknown captors for more than eight years.

And after the nuclear deal with the P5+1 was signed, Iran last month seized Siamak Namazi, a businessman who was raised in the United States and had been working out of Dubai, while he was visiting a friend in Tehran.

“Another day, another hostage taken by Iran,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said today. “Iran has clearly declared open season on anyone with ties to the United States. What is the White House going to do about it?”

The State Department said that since Zakka is a legal permanent resident — a green card holder — his country of origin has to lobby on his behalf.

“I can’t comment on any specific matter, but I would say that consular assistance is provided by the country of an individual’s nationality,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters today.

“…What I can say is our commitment, and our commitment is to the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad. We think these people need to be home with their families. We raise this every opportunity we can.”

Asked about the fact that the number of Americans detained by Iran since the nuclear deal was signed has increased, not decreased, Trudeau replied, “It’s always a concern when American citizens are detained overseas. And we will work hard. We raise this. We have a commitment. We want to get these people home with their families.”

She acknowledged that Americans are being detained by the Islamic Republic more frequently now.

Asked about whether there will be consequences for Iran: “On this, this is something that we continue to have dialogue on. This is something we will continue to discuss… I’m not going to speak to Iranian motives.”