TEHRAN: The body of a senior Iranian diplomat missing since the Hajj stampede in Saudi Arabia in September has been identified, Iranian media said on Wednesday, quashing speculation he was kidnapped.
The corpse of Iran’s former ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, 49, was identified through DNA tests, the ISNA news agency reported citing reliable sources.
“My brothers travelled to Saudi Arabia and after seeing his body announced they have identified him,” the ex-diplomat’s brother, Morteza, was quoted by the state television website as saying.
Roknabadi’s body will be repatriated on Thursday, he added. Iranian media did not give details of how and when he died. Roknabadi was attending this year’s hajj when the stampede broke out.
More than 2,200 people, including 464 Iranians, were killed, according to tallies given by foreign officials, in what was the deadliest disaster in the pilgrimage’s history by far. Until last year, Roknabadi was Tehran’s envoy to Beirut, a highly sensitive post.
Lebanon is home to the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which is allied with President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war and is also a bitter enemy of Israel. The stampede created strong tensions between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
The regional rivals have long had an uneasy relationship and are backing opposing sides in Syria, as well as in the conflict in Yemen. Many Iranian officials had said Roknabadi was still alive and asked Saudi Arabia to send him home.
“Our intelligence indicates that he is still alive, and we ask Saudi Arabia to return him alive,” Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said in November.