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Iran says tests will show cause of diplomat's death in Saudi

AFP , Friday 27 Nov 2015
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Views: 1068

Iran will conduct medical tests to establish if a high-ranking diplomat died of suffocation at this year's hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, following widely contrasting accounts about his demise.

Suspicion has surrounded the case of Ghazanfar Roknabadi, 49, a former ambassador to Lebanon, with senior officials suggesting as late as two weeks ago that he was alive and being held hostage.

But Iran confirmed Thursday that Roknabadi's corpse had been found in Saudi Arabia. His body arrived back in Tehran on Friday with his coffin draped in the Iranian flag for a funeral ceremony.

He is thought to have been among 464 Iranians killed in the hajj's worst-ever tragedy in September -- at least 2,236 perished in a stampede at Mina, near the Saudi city of Mecca.

But confusion over his death has added to already heavy strain between Tehran and Riyadh, the Middle East's strongest Shiite and Sunni powers, who back opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Until last year, Roknabadi was Tehran's envoy to Beirut, a highly sensitive post. Lebanon is home to the Iranian-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah, allied with President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, who Riyadh has repeatedly urged to stand down.

Roknabadi's body was identified by DNA in Saudi Arabia but secondary testing will be used to determine if he died in the hajj crush, his brother was quoted saying by the ISNA news agency.

"If the result of examinations in Tehran contradicts the Saudis' claim that my brother died in the Mina incident we will complain via international forums," Morteza Roknabadi said.

He acknowledged the rumours about his brother's death, which followed recent remarks by Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian.

"Our intelligence indicates that he is still alive, and we ask Saudi Arabia to return him alive," Abdollahian said on November 11.

When Roknabadi was initially reported as being among the hajj victims Iran's foreign ministry denied claims by some Arab media that he had travelled to Saudi Arabia under a false name.

On Friday, ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari confirmed further testing would take place to establish how the diplomat died but the assumption was natural causes.

Top Iranian officials including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Saudi Arabia of incompetence at the hajj and said the handling of the aftermath and repatriation of bodies was far too slow.

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