Iran on Friday urged Kenya to release two of its citizens charged by a Nairobi court with planning a terrorist act after being arrested for filming the Israeli Embassy in the capital.
Kenyan State Prosecutor Duncan Ondimu said in court on Thursday that Sayed Nasrollah Ebrahimi and Abdolhosein Gholi Safaee were arrested Tuesday in an Iranian diplomatic car while taking the pictures of the Israeli mission using a mobile phone, including when they were intercepted.
He said the two were found with video footage of the embassy.
But according to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, the two men are “official lawyers of the justice ministry… who traveled to Nairobi on behalf of the families of two Iranian prisoners in Kenya for a legal follow-up.”
The men, along with a Kenyan driver also charged on Thursday, had been to Kamiti prison outside Nairobi to visit two other Iranians, Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi, serving a 15-year term for possessing explosives after being convicted in 2013.
Ghasemi said the arrest of the two lawyers had been the result of a “misunderstanding,” and called for their immediate release.
Kenya’s ambassador to Tehran was called to the Foreign Ministry on Thursday and told of the “hostile intervention of a third party in a finished case, undoubtedly with the intention of damaging good Iran-Kenya relations,” Ghasemi said, without specifically referring to Israel.
Iran and Israel have been arch-foes since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem had no comment on the incident.
The Kenyan driver, Moses Keyah Mmboga, who was chauffeuring the vehicle belonging to the Iranian embassy has been charged along with the suspects and also faces a separate charge of “abetting terrorism,” Ondimu said.
In June 2013 a Kenyan court convicted Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi of being Revolutionary Guards agents plotting attacks against Western targets in Kenya and sentenced them to life in prison. That sentence was reduced on appeal in February to 15 years imprisonment.
Mohammad and Mousavi were arrested in June 2012 and led officials to a 15-kilogram (33-pound) stash of the explosive RDX. At least 85 kilograms (187 pounds) of the explosives that authorities say was shipped into Kenya has not yet been found.
Kenyan anti-terror officials said the two Iranians are members of the Quds Force, an elite and secretive unit in the Revolutionary Guards.
Kenya has previously been the site of terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. In 2002, terrorists bombed a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, after a large group of Israeli tourists had arrived. 13 people were killed in the attack, including 3 Israelis.
At the same time as the bombing, terrorists fired surface-to-air missiles at a plane belonging to Israel’s Arkia Airlines while it was taking off at Mombasa’s airport, but missed the plane.
The attacks were credited to al-Qaeda’s east Africa affiliate.