Iran arrests eight it says are ‘linked to CIA’ in protests

State media says some were caught trying to collect information about ongoing anti-government riots, others were ‘carrying out orders’

Iranian protesters gather around a fire during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the capital Tehran, on November 16, 2019. (AFP/ File)
Iranian protesters gather around a fire during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the capital Tehran, on November 16, 2019. (AFP/ File)

Iran has arrested eight people accused of links to the CIA and gathering information to send abroad during deadly street violence that erupted after a fuel price hike triggered demonstrations.

A near-total internet blackout was imposed by the Islamic Republic on November 16, the day after it made the shock announcement that gas prices were immediately going up by as much as 200 percent.

Reports of deaths and arrests emerged as security forces were deployed to rein in demonstrations which turned violent in some areas, with dozens of banks, petrol pumps and police stations torched.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Wednesday accused Tehran of “deliberately covering up” more than 100 deaths and thousands of arrests during the crackdown.

Officials in Iran have confirmed five people were killed and so far announced about 500 arrests, including of some 180 “ringleaders.”

But Amnesty International said on Monday that at least 143 demonstrators have been killed since November 15 in the crackdown.

The latest to have been detained in Iran were eight people “linked to the CIA during recent riots,” state news agency IRNA said late Wednesday.

People walk past buildings which were burned during protests in the city of Karaj, west of the capital Tehran that followed a nation-wide raise in gasoline prices in, Iran, seen on November 18, 2019. (Masoume Aliakbar/ISNA via AP)

“Some elements who tried to collect information about the recent riots and send them out of the country… were identified and arrested,” it quoted the director-general of the intelligence ministry’s counter-espionage department as saying.

Six of them were alleged to have been “attending the riots and carrying out orders,” IRNA reported, without naming the official.

Two others accused of trying to collect information and transfer it abroad were arrested before they could leave the country, the news agency said.

They had all been “trained in different countries on how to collect information… as citizen-journalists,” it added.

The United States, said on Tuesday it had received thousands of messages from the Islamic Republic about the protests, including photos and videos, after issuing an appeal for people to defy the internet restrictions.

“We’ve received to date nearly 20,000 messages, videos, pictures, notes of the regime’s abuses through Telegram messaging services,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, referring to the encrypted app.

‘Dangerous conspiracy’

The unrest, triggered by a sharp rise in petrol prices, came after a year and a half of biting sanctions reimposed by US President Donald Trump that aim to contain Iran’s regional role.

The sanctions followed Trump’s decision in May 2018 to unilaterally withdraw the United States from an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran has blamed the unrest on “thugs” backed by its foreign enemies, including the United States, Israel and the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, an exiled armed opposition group it considers a “terrorist” cult.

Iranian pro-government demonstrators burn makeshift US flags as they gather in the capital Tehran’s central Enghelab Square on November 25, 2019, to condemn days of “rioting” that Iran blames on its foreign foes. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday said his sanctions-hit country had foiled a “very dangerous” plot.

“The people foiled a deep, vast and very dangerous conspiracy on which a lot of money was spent for destruction, viciousness and the killing of people,” Khamenei was quoted as saying on state television.

On Twitter, Khamenei expressed his “heartfelt gratitude and appreciation” to the Iranian nation in a post that featured pictures of a massive pro-government rally held Monday in Tehran.

“The people proved again that they are powerful and great, and defeated the big conspiracy of the enemy with their presence on the scene,” he said.

“Police and security forces… performed their duty, but what the nation did during this week was more important than any other measure,” said another tweet.

The tweets accused the “#GlobalArrogance and #Zionism” — referring to the US and Israel — of being behind the street violence.

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