Update: 2:04: Andrea Mitchell is on 'Hardball' saying NBC sent the 1979-era pics to a photo expert who said there was a very small probability that the man in the pic circled at left is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Still, the former hostages are sticking by their story, and the U.S. is investigating with high interest...
Update: 2:04: Despite the current denials of his involvement in the 1979 hostage taking in Tehran, before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election as Iran's president, Al-Jazeera.net posted the following in a bio of the then-darkhorse candidate:
As a young student, Ahmadinejad joined an ultraconservative faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity, the radical student group spawned by the 1979 Islamic Revolution and staged the capture of the US Embassy. According to reports, Ahmadinejad attended planning meetings for the US Embassy takeover and at these meetings lobbied for a simultaneous takeover of the Soviet Embassy. Meanwhile today, Lebanon's Daily Star has this chilling prediction for Ahmadinejad's tenure:
... Ahmadinejad's election is a major defeat for reformists of all tendencies. The reformist discourse of fundamentally remaking Iran's political institutions has been eclipsed by a more parochial and practical concern over the growing inequalities in society. Ahmadinejad's landslide victory proves in a dramatic way that reformist rhetoric in many of its aspects is mainly an intellectual pursuit without deep resonance in Iranian society. At a practical level, the defeat will further deepen divisions in the reformists' ranks, making them even less capable of shaping Iranian politics. The reformists have been sustaining electoral defeats since 2003, and it will take time for them to effectively challenge the electoral prowess of the Abadgaran and other right-wing groups.
Update 1:51: From the BBC profile of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
Refiled, 10:10 a.m.: CNN, ABC and other outlets are moving the report of claims that Iran's new president was one of the men who stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and seized American diplomats, holding them for 444 days (and effectively killing the Carter presidency). I first saw the story on the Jawa Report (and you can get comparative pics and lots of links there...)
- He is backed by a group of younger, second-generation revolutionaries known as the Abadgaran, or Developers, who are strong in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis.
- His website says he joined the Revolutionary Guards voluntarily after helping to found the student union which took over the US embassy in 1979.
- He is reported to have served in covert operations in Iraq.
- He was born in Garmsar, near Tehran, in 1956, the son of a blacksmith.
- He holds a PhD in traffic and transport from Tehran's University of Science and Technology, where he was a lecturer.
A group of former U.S. hostages are making that accusation according to the AP, although three former leaders among the student hostage takers are denying Ahmadinejad had anything to do with the hostage taking, and spokesmen for the new Iranian president are vehemently denying it too, according to the BBC:
Mohsen Mirdamadi, who was the leader of the hostage takers, told the BBC that Mr Ahmadinejad had never been with them even for one minute. Another top student leader, Abbas Abdi, also denied the allegations as did Hamid Reza Jalaiepour, another hostage-taker. Mr Jalaiepour said the president-elect was a student from the science and technology university which was more radical than them.
The three former students are now reformists who oppose hardliners like Mr Ahmadinejad, and would have no reason to hide his involvement now.
Photographs have appeared on the internet showing a young bearded man leading a blindfolded American hostage - alleging that this was Mr Ahmadinejad a quarter of a century ago.
But the man in the photograph appears much taller than Mr Ahmadinejad, and looks nothing like other pictures of him as a student which can be found on his website.