Iran says it has arrested dozens of foreign spies

Intelligence minister provides few details, but implies most detainees are dual nationals; Tehran adds it foiled several terror bombing plots

Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2014 (AP/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2014 (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Tehran said Tuesday that it had arrested dozens of spies in Iranian government organizations, as tensions rise in the Islamic Republic over reimposed US sanctions.

“The intelligence ministry’s anti-espionage unit has successfully identified and arrested tens of spies in different governmental bodies,” Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi told the ISNA semi-official news agency, according to Reuters.

He didn’t elaborate on when the arrests took place or the nationality of the detainees.

“I have repeatedly asked people to inform us if they know any dual national,” Alavi added, seeming to indicate that many over those arrested have dual nationality.

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees cannot receive consular assistance. A UN panel in September described “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran, which Tehran denied.

Analysts and family members of dual nationals and others detained in Iran say hardliners in the Islamic Republic’s security agencies use the prisoners as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West.

Alavi also said his ministry had foiled a number of terror plots involving plans to detonate bombs in metro stations and universities, Reuters reported, without specifying when that had happened.

He added that in August, security forces had disbanded a terror cell in northern Iran, and had separately arrested a member of the Islamic State terror group in the country’s south, the report said.

FILE – In this June 16, 2014. file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they carry the group’s flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq (AP Photo, File)

The Islamic State terror group carried out twin attacks last June on Iran’s parliament and the tomb of revolutionary founder Ruhollah Khomeini, killing 17.

Iran, a majority Shiite country, is considered a primary enemy by Sunni jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State — and has directly fought these groups in Syria and Iraq.

The United States said in May that it was abandoning the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions on Tehran in two phases, in August and November.

Since then the Iranian rial has slipped to record lows, which has consequently led many in the authoritarian country to explicitly call for an end to the rule of Iran’s Islamist leadership.

Protests have sprung up in several major cities including Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tehran, driven by concerns over the economy as well as wider anger at the political system.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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