TEHRAN -- A top Iranian former secret agent said yesterday that the hostage-taker in a 1979 photograph that has come under intense scrutiny is not President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but a former militant who committed suicide in jail.
Saeed Hajjarian, a top adviser to outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, identified the man in the photo dating to the 1979 US Embassy siege as Taqi Mohammadi.
Iran's newly elected president has been accused of being a main participant in the taking of American hostages at the embassy.
Six former US hostages who saw the president-elect in photos or on television said they believe Ahmadinejad was among the hostage-takers. One said he was interrogated by Ahmadinejad.
The White House said it was taking their statements seriously. President Bush said ''many questions" were raised by the allegations.
International media have compared photos of Ahmadinejad, who won a presidential runoff election last week, with a black-and-white picture of one of the hostage-takers, a young man with a thin, bearded face and dark hair that sweeps down across his forehead.
But Hajjarian said they were not the same person.
''This man is Taqi Mohammadi, a militant who later turned into a dissident and committed suicide in jail," he said of the 1979 photo.
He said Mohammadi was a militant who joined students in the embassy takeover.
Mohammadi was later arrested on charges of involvement in the 1981 bombing in Tehran that killed the country's president and prime minister, and committed suicide in prison, Hajjarian said.
They said the differences are especially apparent in the ears, angle of the eyebrows, pattern of the beard, cheeks and forehead area above the eyebrows.
Separately, Austrian authorities have said they believe Iran's president-elect may have played a key role in the 1989 slaying of a Kurdish opposition politician in Vienna, an Austrian newspaper reported yesterday.
Austria's Interior Ministry and the public prosecutor's office were investigating alleged evidence pointing to Ahmadinejad's possible involvement, the daily Der Standard newspaper reported.
Hajjarian's comment followed statements by a number of the former Iranian students who carried out the US Embassy seizure and held Americans hostage for 444 days that Ahmadinejad had no role in events.
Hajjarian, considered the brains behind Khatami's democratic reforms program, is a former top official in the Intelligence Ministry, or the secret service. Both supporters and opponents describe him as the ''walking memory" of Iran's recent history because of his access to classified information and secrets within Iran's ruling Islamic establishment.
Hajjarian is one of many reformers who is at loggerheads with the ultraconservative incoming leader. Hajjarian was shot by a hard-line vigilante in 2000 and is paralyzed and cannot speak fluently.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that various government agencies are still collecting the facts on Ahamdinejad's role.
''People are searching through all the information at their disposal, searching through files. . . . I expect that we will reach out to people who were actually there, who were hostages," the spokesman said.
''I don't believe that has happened yet, but I know there is the intention to do so."