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Kidnapped Europeans Freed in Iran

August 31, 1999

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ Four European tourists and an Iranian were released Tuesday by their Iranian kidnappers, officials said.

The hostages _ three Spaniards, an Italian and an Iranian _ were freed and are now in Zahedan in southwestern Iran, Juan Carlos Gafo, the Spanish charge d’affaires in Tehran, told The Associated Press by telephone. He said they will be brought to the capital, Tehran, on Wednesday.

``All of them are in good health and are fine,″ Gafo said.

A drug-smuggling gang allegedly abducted the five men at gunpoint Aug. 14 from a hotel in Kerman, 550 miles southeast of Tehran. They were held in a mountainous region in southeastern Iran. Kerman lies on a route often used to smuggle drugs from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Europe.

According to Iranian media, the leader of the kidnappers, Nazar Shah Bakhsh, had demanded his brother’s release from prison. Ghader Shah Bakhsh was arrested earlier this month during a drug raid.

Iran, isolated after its 1979 Islamic revolution, has been trying in recent years to promote tourism in order to boost its faltering economy.

Earlier Tuesday, an Iranian newspaper said Iranian authorities were preparing to exchange two prisoners for the freedom of the five hostages, including Ghader Shah Bakhsh and another relative of the kidnappers.

It was not clear if any prisoners had been released in exchange for the freedom of the hostages.

One of the Spanish men, Joaquin Fernandez, a 70-year-old priest, suffers from blood pressure problems and has been allowed to receive medication.

The other Spaniards are Cosme Puerto, 57, also a priest, and Pedro Garcia, 34, a computer engineer from Barcelona. The Italian is Massimo Cattabriga, a 39-year-old engineer. A newspaper has identified the Iranian as Rahmatollah Salmani, 33, a contractor.