IRAN tried to kidnap a former national football team captain for criticising the regime, according to his friend.
Ex-skipper Ali Karimi made 127 appearances for his country between 1998 and 2012, including at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
However, he is now said to be living in exile in the UAE and at the centre of a social media ploy to lure him back to his homeland because of his support for recent protests.
Karimi, 43, went public with comments following the shocking arrest and death in custody three days later of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September for wearing her hijab incorrectly.
As reported by The Times, that resulted in an arrest warrant, accusing Karimi of “collusion with the intention of acting against national security”.
And now pal Mehdi Rostampour has detailed how an elaborate plan to capture the former Bayern Munich playmaker was devised.
In a lengthy social media post, Rostampour described how a “celebrity” with alleged links to the regime wanted to follow Karimi’s lead and leave the country, requesting to meet in Fujairah, UAE.
The message was sent to Karimi via another footballer he knew – but the sporting icon grew suspicious.
Rostampour said: “Karimi was not keen on meeting him in any case.
“But just before the set time, he received a text from a friend saying, ‘Fujairah is a trap’.
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“Who was the sender? Someone from within the intelligence ministry!”
Rostampour alleged the plan – conjured up by Iran’s intelligence ministry – was to force Karimi on to a boat, ship him back to Iran and strongarm him into making a false confession on state TV.
Protests continue in the country as civilians demonstrate in the face of their oppressive rulers, especially after Amini’s death.
Around 200 people have died at the hands of security authorities while many of the crowds have chanted Karimi’s name.
It is thought Iran want to silence Karimi as a powerful voice of opposition – and he has reportedly had his passport confiscated yet still managed to fly to the UAE.
Rostampour concluded: “Fortunately Ali Karimi is in good hands and safe. He has committed no crime other than standing by his people.”
All my pain and sorrow is the safety of the people in Iran
Karimi said on Monday: “I thank my countrymen who are worried about my humble self.
“I and my family have been threatened and are threatened in various ways. But I am not important.
“I still mourn my countrymen across Iran and all my pain and sorrow is the safety of the people in my homeland.”
There are growing calls for Fifa to banish Iran from the World Cup due to the oppressive regime and human rights record as well as the government supplying drones to Russia in their illegal invasion of Ukraine.