spain iran-1666781756001
Santiago Sanchez Cogedor with his sister Natalia in this family photo in a file photo. Image Credit: AP

MADRID: A Spanish man trekking from Madrid to Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup is believed to be under arrest in Iran where he went missing more than three weeks ago, his family said Wednesday.

“We learned this morning from the (Spanish) foreign ministry that there’s a 99 per cent chance he is arrested,’’ Celia Cogedor, the mother of 41-year-old trekker Santiago Sanchez, told The Associated Press.

“We are filled with hope,’’ she said.

Sanchez’s sister is due to meet on Thursday with officials at the Spanish Foreign Ministry in Madrid to learn further details.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that the Spanish embassy in Tehran is in touch with Iranian authorities about Sanchez. It declined to provide further details.

Iran is being engulfed by mass unrest, triggering fears about Sanchez’s fate after he stopped contacting his family in Spain on October 2, a day after he crossed the Iraq-Iran border. He had warned his family that communication might be difficult in Iran.

The Spanish adventurer planned to go to Tehran, the Iranian capital, where a television station wanted to interview him. His next step would have been Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran where he would hop on a boat to Qatar. But all traces of him vanished even before he reached Tehran, his parents said.

His parents reported him missing on October 17. They said Spain’s police and diplomats were helping the family.

This was not Sanchez’s first time in Iran. In 2019 the fervent soccer fan cycled a similar route to get from Madrid to Saudi Arabia.

His parents say they are proud of his adventurous spirit and say his only aims are to help others and promote the Real Madrid soccer team.

Sanchez’s disappearance in Iran came as protesters are rising up across the Islamic Republic in the largest antigovernment movement in over a decade. The demonstrations erupted on Sept. 16 over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman taken into custody by Iran’s morality police for allegedly not adhering to the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

Tehran has violently cracked down on protesters and blamed foreign enemies and Kurdish groups in Iraq for fomenting the unrest, without offering evidence. The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said authorities had arrested nine foreigners, mostly Europeans, over their alleged links to the protests.