Entries in Iran (14)


FBI to Mark Six Years Since Former Agent Went Missing in Iran

Courtesy Levinson family(NEW YORK) -- Thousands of former FBI agents across the country on Friday are expected to observe a moment of silence in honor of their missing colleague, ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, who six years ago on Saturday was kidnapped in Iran.

Levinson, who spent more than two decades in the Bureau before retiring in 1998, was traveling as a private businessman when he was taken captive by unknown assailants on Iran's Kish island March 9, 2007.

Since then, his family has mounted a worldwide campaign demanding that Iran set him free, pushing U.S. officials in a meeting in the Oval Office last March to negotiate for him.  

On Friday, the family is scheduled to meet with the FBI and State Department about the case, but as one family member told ABC News, "There is no news, unfortunately."

After his sudden disappearance, the first public sign of life from Levinson, who has diabetes, came in a hostage video posted on the Internet a little over a year ago.

"Please help me get home," says Levinson in the video.  "Thirty-three years of service to the United States deserves something.  Please help me."

In January, the family released a series of pictures of Levinson they received from his captors in 2011.  This time the 64-year-old appeared haggard in an orange mock-prison uniform with a long gray beard and chains over his shoulders.  There were five different photos, each staged with a different disturbing message by his captors.  In each he holds a sign, one of which reads "Help me."

People involved in the case said the pictures, which also reference Guantanamo, were designed to suggest he is being held by al Qaeda, although the same people are certain Levinson is in Iran.

Authorities either do not know or have not publicly identified Levinson's suspected captors, but the U.S. government has repeatedly asked the Iranian government's help in finding him.

However, despite those pleas and a $1 million reward offered by the FBI for information leading to Levinson's discovery, it appears he will mark his sixth year away from his family and in captivity.  Levinson turns 65 years old on Sunday.

"Bob's former colleagues have not forgotten him and we call on the international community to redouble its efforts to gain his release," said Konrad Motyka, President of the FBI Agents Association.  "Let's make this the last solemn anniversary that needs to be marked by focusing world attention on Levinson's continued unjustified imprisonment and gaining his release."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


New US Stealth Fighters Now at Iran's Back Door

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- America's most sophisticated stealth jet fighters have been quietly deployed to an allied base less than 200 miles from Iran's mainland, according to an industry report. Still, the Air Force adamantly denied the jets' presence is a threat to the Middle East nation.

Multiple stealth F-22 Raptors, which have never been combat-tested, are in hangars at the United Arab Emirates' Al Dafra Air Base, just a short hop over the Persian Gulf from Iran's southern border, the trade publication Aviation Week reported.

Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. John Dorrian would not confirm the exact location of the F-22s, but told ABC News they had been deployed to a base in Southwest Asia -- a region that includes the UAE. Dorrian also stressed that the F-22s were simply taking part in a scheduled deployment and are "not a threat to Iran."

"This is a very normal deployment to strengthen military relationships, promote sovereign and regional security, improve combined tactical air operations and enhance interoperability of forces," Dorrian said.

The F-22 has only been in the UAE once before for training missions in 2009 with "coalition partners."

Dorrian declined to say what the Raptors' mission was in the region this time around or how many planes had been deployed, citing operational security. However, Dorrian said that because of the F-22's next-generation capabilities, any number of planes deployed to the region is "significant."

Though the F-22 has been officially combat operational since December 2005, no planes from the Air Force fleet -- which are made by defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin and cost an estimated $79 billion -- have seen combat. The plane was not used in Iraq, Afghanistan or in the U.S.-led no-fly mission over Libya. The Air Force has said the sophisticated jets simply haven't been needed yet.

But Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin's vice president for the F-22 program, told ABC News last year that the plane was "absolutely" suited for taking on more sophisticated adversaries and could be used in deep penetration strike missions in well-defended combat zones inside places like North Korea or Iran.

The new deployment comes in the midst of the Air Forces' continuing battle with a rare but sustained oxygen problem plaguing the F-22. Since 2008, nearly two dozen pilots have reported experiencing "hypoxia-like symptoms" in mid-air. The problem got so bad that the Air Force grounded the planes for nearly five months last year in hopes of fixing the problem but never could.

The service also does not know what caused the malfunction that cut off F-22 pilot Capt. Jeff Haney's oxygen shortly before he fatally crashed during a training mission in Alaska in 2010.

But despite the ongoing issues, the Air Force says the F-22 is ready for war, should it be called.

"If our nation needs a capability to enter contested air space, to deal with air forces that are trying to deny our forces the ability to maneuver without prejudice on the ground, it will be the F-22 that takes on that mission," Air Force Maj. Gen. Noel Jones, Director of Operational Capability Requirements, said at a special briefing at the Pentagon in March. "It can do that right now and is able to do that without hesitation."

The Al Dafra base is approximately 800 miles from the Iranian capital of Tehran, well within the range of the F-22, which can "supercruise" at one and a half times the speed of sound.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Poll: Concern About Broader War Dampens Support for Iran Attack

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Broad concern about wider war in the Middle East is dampening public support for U.S. or Israeli military strikes against Iran’s nuclear development sites, with Americans by wide margins preferring diplomatic efforts or economic deterrence instead.

Eighty-four percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll suspect that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, basically unchanged since late 2009. As then, the preferred approaches are direct diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Iran, backed by 81 percent, and an increase in international economic sanctions, supported by three-quarters.

Many fewer, 41 percent, support a U.S. bombing effort, with 53 percent opposed, again similar to 2009. Support for Israeli strikes is virtually identical, with 42 percent in favor and 51 percent opposed. Israel has threatened such strikes; President Obama, while not ruling out military action, has urged allowing more time for sanctions to work, a position criticized by some of his Republican opponents.

RISK OF WAR -- Reluctance to support airstrikes stems mostly from a broad concern that they could trigger a larger war in the Middle East. Nearly nine out of 10 in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, see a risk of broader war if Israel were to bomb Iran; three-quarters call it a “major” risk.

Among those who perceive a major risk of war, just 32 percent support Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear sites, and 35 percent back U.S. bombing efforts. Those who perceive little or no risk of sparking a regional war are far more supportive of airstrikes -- 76 percent support action by Israel, 64 percent by the United States.

WAIT AND SEE? -- More than twice as many Americans say it’s a better idea to wait and see if economic sanctions against Iran work -- even if this allows more time for its nuclear program to progress (64 percent) -- than to attack Iran soon, before its nuclear program progresses further than it already has, even if that means not waiting to see if sanctions work (26 percent).

The “wait-and-see” approach is particularly popular among those who perceive a major risk of wider war. Nearly seven in 10 in this group think the U.S. should pursue sanctions first. Among those who see no risk of war, many fewer, 47 percent, agree.

GROUPS -- Preferred approaches to Iran vary as expected by political preference. Fifty-five percent of Republicans support U.S. bombing strikes, compared with 36 percent of Democrats and independents combined. Similarly, support ranges from 55 percent among conservatives to 38 percent of moderates and a quarter of liberals.

Support for U.S. airstrikes also is 10 points lower among women than men (36 percent vs. 46 percent); women customarily express lower support for military action. It’s also 13 points lower among college graduates than among non-graduates, 32 percent vs. 45 percent.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama and Netanyahu Emphasize Unity on Iran; Differences Remain

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Amid rising concerns about the prospect of the Iranian government making a nuclear weapon, President Obama on Monday assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “the United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security.”

In contrast to the tense Oval Office meeting last May, when the president and prime minister were more focused on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Obama and Netanyahu on Monday sounded united, though behind the scenes they are working through some contentious issues on how to best discourage Iran from continuing with any plans to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

Echoing remarks he delivered Sunday to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama reiterated that diplomacy is the best way to resolve the issue, but that all options, including military action, are on the table.

“We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue,” the president said. “We will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions, I reserve all options. And my policy here is not going to be one of containment; my policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.  And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.”

The U.S. and Israel differ on timelines and red lines. President Obama believes there is still time for diplomatic and economic pressures to work.

“Both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically.  We understand the costs of any military action, and I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation,” Obama said.

Obama’s continued call for diplomacy comes as the Israelis have asked for the White House to more starkly threaten military action against Iran if it continues to violate its international agreements to refrain from building a nuclear weapon. While the U.S. has called for Iran to not manufacture a weapon, Israel wants to go even further and prevent Iran from having the capability to build a weapon, and has asked the U.S. to push Iran to end its program of enriching uranium.

The president on Monday did not go that far, but said it is “profoundly in the United States' interest as well to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” and added that “we do not want to see a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world.  We do not want the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists.”

In his remarks Netanyahu emphasized unity, saying that Israel and America stand together. The prime minister underscored that Israel is a sovereign nation with the right to defend itself.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


What Will Happen to the US If Israel Attacks Iran?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- President Obama is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday to try to talk him out of an immediate strike on Iran's nuclear sites.

But if Israel does decide to bomb Iran, what will it mean for the United States?

According to former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, Americans should brace for a painful impact.  Within a week of the first Israeli attack, says Clarke, a worst case scenario would bring soaring gas prices, terror attacks in U.S. cities, worldwide cyberwar, dead and wounded U.S. sailors, and the real possibility of broad American military involvement.

Gas Prices Could Double

According to U.S. government estimates, about 20 percent of the oil traded worldwide passes through the Persian Gulf, bordered by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.  If Israel were to bomb Iran, oil prices would immediately go up.  If Iran responded by attacking oil tankers going through the Persian Gulf, says Clarke, gasoline prices for U.S. consumers could double.

"You could see very quickly Iranian commandos and their small boats attacking tankers, attacking oil platforms," said Clarke.  "You could see mines being laid in the Gulf."

The result, said Clarke, "would be a huge crisis in energy."  President Obama would tap the U.S.'s strategic petroleum reserve, alleviating some of the price rise.  The spike in prices "might not last long if the U.S. and its allies are able to take control of the Gulf," said Clarke.  "But that could take more than a week and under some scenarios it could take almost a month."

Terror Threat Against Americans

If Israel were to bomb Iran, American officials fear there could be a new wave of terrorism directed by Tehran, especially if the U.S. gets pulled in to the conflict.

"If we, the United States, we're bombing Iran, then I think they'd certainly want to try to do something on our homeland because we were bombing their homeland," said Clarke.

Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah have already shown a willingness to act outside their own borders, both with deadly attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina in the 1990s and the apparent attempted hits on Israeli targets in a number of countries earlier this year.

"Both have strong inroads in Asia, Europe, and Latin America, where they could strike Israeli, Jewish, and U.S. targets," said Clarke.

Israeli embassies and consulates and Jewish places of worship in the U.S. have been put on alert.

The World's First International Cyberwar

An Israeli attack on Iran would likely set off the world's first international cyber war.  Before striking, Israel will try to blind the air defenses of Iran and its neighbors with cyber warfare.  And the U.S. might end up using capabilities it has kept secret until now.

"The United States has a very powerful ability to cause this sort of disruption to electric power grids, communications networks," said Clarke.  "It hasn't done it because it doesn't like to expose its tricks as it's afraid once it does it, people will figure out how the United States does it.  But in a war with Iran, they would be willing to run that risk."

Iran would also attempt to hit back.  Said Clarke, "Iran also has a cyber command, which might try to retaliate by attacking U.S infrastructure such as the power grid, trains, airlines, refineries."

U.S. Navy Casualties in the Gulf

Should the U.S. become involved in the Israeli-Iran conflict militarily, says Clarke, it will be impossible to avoid American casualties.

"The Iranians have hundreds if not thousands of small boats, armed small boats, commando small boats, that will operate in the Gulf," said Clarke.  "They can get in, they can swarm a U.S. destroyer.  The Iranians now also have cruise missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles."

Clarke said there is a potential for the U.S. to sustain significant damage to a few ships and lose some sailors, just as it did during the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s.  Two U.S. ships were hit during that conflict, with a loss of nearly 40 American lives.

The U.S. Enters the War

According to Clarke, Israel can't do long-term, severe damage to Iran's nuclear infrastructure, so its chief purpose in bombing Iran would be to trigger Iranian retaliation and draw the U.S. into the war to defend Israel, and to finish off what Israel started.

If Israel bombs Iran, Clarke says the cascade of events will lead to attacks on Israeli cities.

"Advisors to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak are saying that if Israel bombed Iran, the retaliation on Israel would be tolerable," said Clarke.  "But if Hezbollah in Lebanon launched thousands of extended range, improved accuracy rockets on Israel, hundreds of Israelis would die.  In such a small country, that would be devastating."

The casualties, in turn, would bring the inevitable call to Washington for help.

"You will very quickly see a phone call from Prime Minister Netanyahu to the President," said Clarke, "and he will say to him, 'Only the United States, Mr. President, can find and destroy these mobile missile launchers.  Only you can save the lives of Israelis who are dying as I speak in our cities."

Clarke said that message would probably spur any U.S. president into action -- but especially one who is up for reelection within months.  "It's likely to get a yes answer from the president," predicts Clarke, "and bring the U.S. into the war." 

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mom Visits Former US Marine on Death Row in Iran

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The mother of the former U.S. Marine sentenced to death in Iran was allowed to visit her son, who she said looked gaunt and terrified on death row.

Amir Hekmati's mother, Benhaz, went to Tehran in late January, according to a report posted late Tuesday by The New York Times, three weeks after an Iranian court sentenced the 28-year-old Arizona-raised Iranian-American to death for, "cooperating for a hostile country...and spying for the CIA."

"While he is disappointed by the circumstances he finds himself in, he is hopeful that the truth will be known and he will be able to come home very soon," Hekmati's mother said in a statement, according to The Times. She described the Iranian officials she met as "hospitable" and "respectful," but said her son looked thinner and shocked by his ordeal.

Hekmati's family has publicly maintained his innocence, as first voiced by his father Ali to ABC News in an exclusive interview before the death sentence came down.

"My son is no spy. He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," Ali said in December.  "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."

Hekmati, an Arizona-born Iranian-American who served the U.S. Marines as a rifleman from 2001 to 2005, was arrested while visiting his extended family, including two elderly grandmothers, in Tehran on Aug. 29, 2011, according to the family.  The family said they were urged by the Iranian government to keep quiet about his arrest with the promise of later release, but then in December, Hekmati was shown on Iranian television allegedly confessing to being an undercover agent of the Central Intelligence Agency on a mission to infiltrate the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

"It was their [the CIA's] plan to first burn some useful information, give it to them [the Iranians] and let Iran's Intelligence Ministry think that this is good material," Hekmati says calmly in the video.

Contrary to claims made during the initial Iranian broadcast, Hekmati's military record, provided to ABC News, shows that he never had intelligence training and the U.S. State Department said in early January Iran's claims that Hekmati "either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue."

"The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said then.

With the exception of the rare family statement criticizing Iran's previous lack of cooperation, Hekmati's kin, now represented by a high-powered attorney and a public relations firm, have been quiet in their dogged efforts to free the 28-year-old.

"By remaining discreet, you are not ruling out the option to be more public later," the family's lawyer in America, Pierre-Richard Prosper, told The Times. "A more visible campaign has not been ruled out."

Shortly before Benhaz's visit, Hekmati's lawyers in Tehran filed an appeal with courts there.

Eric Volz, a spokesperson for the family, did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on this report.  A website set up by representatives of the family,, posted The New York Times' story in place of a new family statement. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Heightened Security in US Over Iran Threat

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With Iran allegedly striking out at Israeli citizens and Jewish targets around the world, Israeli and American security officials in the U.S. are on high alert.

"We expect it and we are ready," one senior Israeli official told ABC News.

Israeli officials told ABC News that the level of personal security on high-ranking Embassy officials as well as other lower profile officials in the U.S. is at its highest in at least five years, a response to what they called "a coordinated series of attacks." When Israeli officials travel to and from events, ABC News has observed a notable increase in the security presence.

Federal officials told ABC News that there is so far no specific intelligence of any threat to Israeli interests in the U.S. They also noted that in cities like New York and Washington, D.C., "the targets are much harder" than in countries like India, Georgia and Thailand, where Iran has allegedly attacked or attempted to attack in the past two days. But they also added that Iran can be "belligerent."

Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University in D.C., agreed that the recent incidents in India, Georgia, Thailand and Azerbaijan have "all the hallmarks of a concerted campaign" that could extend to U.S. soil.

"The recent attack on a Saudi official in Washington shows a willingness to attack in the United States," said Cilluffo. "This could be an indicator of a much broader campaign and it is right to take precautionary measures."

Those measures include routine sweeps of cars, residences, and consulates around the country, as well as the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

In New York City, where fixed police posts at the Israeli consulate have been a feature for years, additional sweeps of residences and cars are being performed in conjunction with New York City Police Department Bomb Squad members and members of other specialized police units.

"The NYPD adjusts its counterterrorism posture to include information about events overseas," said Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne. "That's why the public may have noticed increased NYPD presence in recent weeks at Israeli government facilities and synagogues, although there has been no specific threat in New York."

In Philadelphia, police have issued awareness bulletins asking members of the patrol force to stay vigilant. That city also maintains a permanent presence at Israeli facilities.

In Los Angeles, officials said they have been watching Israeli facilities for weeks now and have stepped up their physical security and intelligence monitoring.

Around the country, private security industry officials who specialize in adding security to Jewish cultural and religious institutions report numerous requests for additional security.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Trial Date Set for Man Who Allegedly Plotted Saudi Diplomat's Assassination

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The American linked to Iran and accused of plotting to assassinate a Saudi diplomat will stand trial later this year.

A judge in New York has set an October trial for Manssor Arbabsiar, the Texas man with an Iranian passport accused in a plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. 

Arbabsiar was arrested late last year at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Prosecutors said he tried to arrange a bombing at a favorite restaurant of Adel al-Jubeir.

The White House accused Iran's government of playing a role in the plot.  Iran has denied it.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Iranian Student Activist Shot to Death in Texas

AbleStock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- A Texas medical student well known in her community as an Iranian activist was mysteriously shot and killed in her car, just yards from her home.

Gelareh Bagherzadeh, 30, was driving through her Houston townhouse complex around midnight on Monday when she was shot dead through her car window.

"When officers arrived, they found a vehicle had run into a garage door at that location with the engine running and tires spinning on the pavement. Ms. Bagherzadeh was found slumped over in the driver's seat," the Houston Police Department said in a statement.

Authorities said nothing appeared to have been stolen from her car. Her cellphone and purse were found inside.

"Homicide investigators responded to the scene and were told by witnesses that several gunshots were heard, a crash and then tires squealing," the statement said.

Police told ABC News Houston affiliate KTRK that the last person to speak to Bagherzadeh was her close friend and ex-boyfriend who was on the phone with her when she was shot.

"[The boyfriend] heard a loud thud. He doesn't recall hearing any gunshots, but a loud thud and then a screeching noise," Richard Bolton of the Houston Police Department Homicide unit told KTRK.

Bagherzadeh was of Iranian descent and was outspoken in promoting Iranian women's rights and criticizing the Iranian government, according to interviews she had done with the Houston Chronicle.

Photos and video from the newspaper's website show Bagherzadeh participating in a 2010 protest calling for a regime change in Iran. At the time, she requested that her name not be used in the video because she was afraid of persecution, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"It's not believed that she was targeted because of her ethnicity or because she was an activist," Houston Police Department spokesman Victor Senties told ABC News.

Police don't currently believe her death was related to her activism, but the death is mysterious. Bagherzadeh's cellphone and purse were still inside.

Bagherzadeh was studying molecular genetic technology at the Texas Medical Center.

Her family could not be reached for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


American Held by Iran as CIA 'Spy' Had No Military Intel Training

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Arizona-born man accused by Iran of being a spy for the CIA never had any intelligence training while serving in the U.S. military, according to Marine Corps records, despite Iranian claims.

Service records provided to ABC News show Iranian-American Amir Hekmati enlisted in the Marines after graduating high school in Flint, Mich., in 2001 and joined the infantry, completing basic training at Camp Pendleton in California. The 28-year-old briefly attended the Defense Language Institute for the Marines in Monterey, Calif., and his father told ABC News he worked as a translator, but records show Hekmati was officially a rifleman only. A Marine spokesperson said it was possible he could have served as a translator for his Marine unit in a more informal capacity.

Hekmati was deployed abroad where he was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon, which is given to Marines that at some point were in direct combat with the enemy, the records say. He steadily rose as an enlisted man in the Marines until he completed his service in 2005 as a sergeant with a Good Conduct Medal, among other distinctions. Not a single time do the records mention any training in military intelligence.

Hekmati appeared on Iranian television on Sunday where he seemed to calmly confess to being a spy for the CIA, tasked with infiltrating the Iranian intelligence ministry after receiving a decade of military intelligence training. The Iranian program claimed he was a former soldier in the U.S. Army and then an Army contractor, and showed ID cards supposedly to back up the claim. An Army spokesperson told ABC News Monday that no one matching Hekmati's name has a service record there.

Ali Hekmati, Amir's father, told ABC News Monday the Iranian claims were "a bunch of lies" and he believes his son was forced to give a false confession. The elder Hekmati said his son, whose entire immediate family lives in America, had been arrested in Iran four months earlier while he was visiting his two Iranian grandmothers.

"My son is no spy. He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," said Hekmati, a biology professor at Mott Community College in Michigan. "I am absolutely afraid to death... I don't know what they're going to do with him."

The elder Hekmati said his son did go to work for a contractor after his Marine service, but insisted he never had intelligence training there either.

The CIA declined to comment Monday, but one U.S. official said, "Whoever this young American is, he is obviously under duress and in the hands of an enemy. His safety is paramount."

Ali Hekmati said that since his son's arrest, he's had no direct contact and Amir was only allowed a couple visits by his Iranian grandmothers while in custody. He has not been provided a lawyer, Ali Hekmati said.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Monday the State Department has been providing consular assistance to Hekmati's family, who first reported his detention in September. Nuland declined to elaborate on Hekmati's wellbeing, citing privacy concerns. The U.S. has requested access to Hekmati but has yet to receive it, Nuland said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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