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Iranian media: Israeli spy cell caught laying bombs at ‘sensitive site’ in Isfahan

Regime-affiliated outlet claims Mossad-directed network was busted hours before detonating the explosives; accusation comes as IRGC rocket scientist is reportedly ‘martyred’

File: Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
File: Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

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, an Iranian regime-affiliated outlet claimed Sunday.

The claim came a day after the Islamic Republic claimed to have stopped the Israeli spy network, arresting agents who had tried to carry out sabotage and “terrorist operations” with the help of state-of-the-art technology.

“All of them were captured,” Iran said, “and their weapons, explosives, technical and communications equipment were entirely discovered and confiscated.”

Nour News, a website linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, published new details Sunday, claiming that the cell entered Iran months ago from Iraqi Kurdistan, after being trained in Africa under the guidance of the Israeli 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.”

The report said the location was a “very sensitive” site in Isfahan Province. Some Israeli outlets noted that the province is home to the Natanz nuclear plant, which has been targeted in attacks blamed by Tehran on Israel.

Nour News said more details about the network and the arrests would be published soon.

Tehran hasn’t said how many suspects were arrested or given their nationalities, nor has it identified the targets of the purported plots.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports were circulating in Iranian social media of the death of a Revolutionary Guards rocket scientist, the latest in a string of mysterious deaths of officials taking part in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

According to Israeli media, posters in memory of Said Thamardar Mutlak were published primarily in pages affiliated with Iran’s opposition. Some reports called him a “martyr,” and some said he had been assassinated, likely by “external elements.”

Some reports even claimed Iranian authorities had warned the scientist’s parents not to publicize his death.

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.

Last month, The New York Times reported that a senior Revolutionary Guards general 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 of Brig. Gen. Ali Nasiri 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.

Hossein Taeb, former head of the intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), looks on during a meeting in Tehran on June 24, 2018. (Hamed Malekpour/Tasnim News/AFP)

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.

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