9 December 2003
TEHERAN - Police have yet to find any trace of three European tourists and an Iranian tour guide kidnapped last week on a bicycle tour in southeast Iran, a government official said Tuesday.
The general director of the Sistan-Baluchestan governor's office, Gholam-Reza Javdan, told the news service Kar that the one Irish and two German tourists and the Iranian guide were abducted by a drug- trafficking ring who demanded a EUR five million ransom.
He could give no further details but said police had seized 40 tons of drugs from the bands within the last eights months and the ransom money might be an effort to compensate for that loss.
He added that police and security forces will continue their extensive search for the kidnapped persons in the border province which is notorious as transit route for drug trafficking from Afghanistan and Pakistan to European markets.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi confirmed the abduction of the three tourists and blamed them for having acted irresponsibly" ignoring coordination with local police while planning a bicycle tour in a well-known insecure area.
We have however mobilised police and security forces to trace the kidnappers and bring the case to a swift end," Kharrazi told the news network Khabar.
The head of Iranian tourism, Mohammad Abd-Khodaie, told the student news agency ISNA Tuesday that Iran is still a very safe place for tourists, except for the border areas to Afghanistan and Pakistan where the tourists were abducted.
Tourism is to become a new major income source for Iran and reports on security problems could harm plans to attract foreign tourists.
Informed sources in Zahedan said on Tuesday that although police and secret service have kept the operations quite secret for security reasons, news has leaked out that all four hostages are men.
Furthermore the tour guide, was blamed by police for sufficiently warning the three tourists of the risks in the area, sources said, adding that a swap of jailed members of the notorious Shahbakhsh gang (believed to be behind the kidnapping) could be possible in return for the hostages.