An alleged Israeli spy network made up of five individuals has been arrested in Iran, an Iranian media outlet claimed Thursday, the second such group detention announced within a week.
The semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency said the five suspects were the leader of the cell and four associates, all of whom were “affiliated with the Israeli regime” and had allegedly been in contact with the head of Israel’s Mossad.
The report said Iran claimed the alleged spies had told the chief of the Israeli spy agency that they would “collect information from important and vital areas.”
The report also said that the group was accused of arson and had been trained to carry out acts of terrorism and sabotage.
ILNA said the cell had received financial payment for their activities and had been found to be in possession of “advanced equipment” as well as cellphones and SIM cards.
According to the report, the group was in contact with Mossad via the “leader of one of the separatist groups” which has a “history of mercenary activity” for Israel.
The report didn’t reveal the nationalities of the suspects, nor has it identified the targets of the purported plots. It was not clear when the group was arrested.
Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the United States and Israel, though it does not provide evidence to back up such claims.
The announcement came days after the Islamic Republic claimed to have stopped another Israeli spy network, arresting agents who had tried to carry out sabotage and “terrorist operations” with the help of state-of-the-art technology.
Nour News, a website linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, claimed that an alleged Israeli spy network was caught by Iranian authorities while laying explosives at a “very sensitive” site in the Isfahan Province, hours before planning to detonate them. The cell, the website said, entered Iran months ago from Iraqi Kurdistan, after being trained in Africa under the guidance of the Mossad spy agency.
According to the report, the members of the network were arrested as “high-explosive materials were planted” at the targeted site, only a few hours before the “final stage of their terrorist operation.” Isfahan province is home to the Natanz nuclear plant, which has been targeted in attacks blamed by Tehran on Israel.
Last month, The New York Times reported that a senior Revolutionary Guards officer, Brig. Gen. Ali Nasiri, was secretly arrested for allegedly spying for Israel.
Citing officials with close ties to the IRGC speaking on condition of anonymity, the report said the arrest marked a growing level of distrust among the country’s senior leadership partly attributed to Israel’s alleged recent operations in the country. Nasiri served as a senior commander in the IRGC Protection of Information Unit, the report said.
Two months earlier, a few dozen security officials involved in Iran’s missile program were arrested for allegedly leaking classified information to Israel, the newspaper said.
Several months ago, the IRGC’s intelligence chief Hossein Taeb was replaced. Taeb, who held the position for more than 12 years, had been tasked with exposing Israel’s spy network in Iran, an unnamed adviser to the Iranian government and an individual affiliated with the IRGC both told the Times.
Taeb’s downfall is seen by some as a prime example of the long-running campaign by Israel to expose failures by the IRGC by allegedly stepping up attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities in recent months and targeting high-level officials inside Iranian territory — all meant to generate conflict between the political and defense establishments in Iran, Israeli officials told the newspaper.
The Times reported that Taeb had “seemed untouchable” before a number of recent high-profile killings blamed on Israel and before the apparently foiled Iranian plan to attack Israelis in Turkey.
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war but tensions have ratcheted up following a string of high-profile incidents Tehran has blamed on Jerusalem.
A number of IRGC members and scientists have been killed in recent months, with Iran often pointing the finger at Israel.
AFP contributed to this report.