Search under way for Briton amid ruins of historic city

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The Independent Online

A Briton is among those missing in Iran after the massive earthquake that killed up to 20,000 people, officials said yesterday.

A Briton is among those missing in Iran after the massive earthquake that killed up to 20,000 people, officials said yesterday.

A second Briton touring the ancient city of Bam was slightly hurt in the disaster, but is now recovering in hospital, a spokesman for the British embassy in Tehran said.

A search team is scouring the city, 630 miles south-east of the capital, to try to track down the missing Briton, who was in the area when the quake struck on Friday morning and has not been heard from since.

Officials have not released the name, age or sex of any of the British nationals caught up in the disaster. Twenty-eight British tourists in the region escaped unharmed.

One group was in Bam at the time of the earthquake, which reduced most of the city to rubble, and a second tour party was due to visit from the nearby town of Kerman that morning.

A British travel agency, Realworld Travel, based in Norwich, organised a two-week tour that started on 19 December, according to its website. On the eighth day of the tour, the party was due to "visit the fortress of Bam and the exquisite mausoleum of Shah Ne'matollah Vali at Mahan". Representatives from Realworld Travel were unavailable for comment last night.

The Foreign Office yesterday warned Britons not to travel to south-eastern Iran following the earthquake. It updated its advice to travellers, saying all British nationals not connected to the rescue mission should avoid the area until further notice.

The Foreign Office has also warned of a heightened risk of terrorism in the country. British nationals have already been alerted to a "significant threat" from terrorism, but earlier this week the Iranian Foreign Minister warned of an increased risk of attacks from al-Qa'ida in the country.

On four occasions between 1 and 14 September, shots were fired at the British embassy compounds in Tehran. On 21 November a small incendiary device was thrown at the back gate of the embassy. There were no casualties.

The United Nations cultural agency, Unesco, has asked Iran for permission to send a team of experts to the fortress at Bam, which has been under consideration for the agency's list of protected World Heritage Sites.

Bam was dominated by a giant medieval fortress complex of towers, domes and walls, all made of mud brick, overlooking a walled old city.

"The site of Bam is considered one of the very, very important sites of mud-brick architecture," said Mounir Bouchenaki, a Unesco heritage specialist.

Parts of the old city date back 2,000 years, though most of the structures were built between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Bam was a major commercial and trading town on the famous Spice Route, a tributary of the Silk Road, connecting trade routes from India through Iran to Central Asia and China. The city was also an important textile producer, known for fine fabrics throughout the Islamic world.