Iran's intelligence agents mounted a "complicated" cross-border operation and freed an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in 2008 by gunmen in northwestern Pakistan, state television reported Tuesday.
The agents rescued Heshmatollah Attarzadeh of Iran's Peshawar consulate "in a complicated intelligence operation" and took him back to Iran the report said, without providing any further details.
Iran's consul general in Peshawar, Abbas Ali Abdullahi, confirmed to The Associated Press that Attarzadeh has been recovered and is now safely back in Iran. But he refused to give any further details.
The diplomat and his Pakistani bodyguard were driving over a narrow bridge in Peshawar on Nov. 13, 2008 when two gunmen blocked their way with a car and opened fire. The attackers fled with the diplomat after killing the guard.
Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province and borders the largely autonomous tribal regions, parts of which have become strongholds for Taliban and al Qaeda militants who have staged repeated attacks against the city.
In the 1980s, Peshawar was an intrigue-filled hub for U.S.-backed guerrillas fighting Soviet troops in neighboring 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 organized crime and militancy are on the rise - and increasingly hard to distinguish - and it was possible that the Iranian was kidnapped for ransom.
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 to be announced 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.