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Iran claims it dismantled CIA spy ring

July 22, 2019

The Intelligence Ministry in Tehran said it had detained 17 agents it suspected of being US spies. President Trump has said the claims are "totally false."

US and Iranian flags

The Iranian government said on Monday that it had broken up a CIA spy ring, in the latest sign of  increased tensions between Iran, the US and other NATO powers.

A statement carried on public television from the Intelligence Ministry in Tehran claimed that they had detained 17 suspected agents. The Fars news agency, nominally independent but considered at least partly state-influenced, said that some of them had been given death sentences.

"Some were sentenced to death and some to long-term imprisonment," the ministry told reporters. 

Official: Suspects were Iranians recruited by CIA

Iran recently claimed to have exposed a large cyber espionage network which it said was run by the CIA. At a press conference, an intelligence official said that the arrests had taken place over the past months. He did not specify how many suspects had been sentenced to capital punishment. In an unusual move, the official did not identify himself at the press gathering.

He said that some had been recruited by a "visa trap" scheme, set up by the CIA for Iranians looking to travel to the US. They were allegedly promised immigration documents or jobs in the US in return for espionage work. All the suspects were Iranian nationals who had acted independently of one another, he told journalists.

"Some were approached when they were applying for a visa, while others had visas from before and were pressured by the CIA in order to renew them."

The official added that some of those arrested had received "sophisticated training" and worked at nuclear and military facilities, then said that none had succeeded in their missions of sabotage.

They had been "employed at sensitive and crucial centers and also the private sector related to them, working as contractors or consultants," he said.

Iran said in April that it had uncovered nearly 300 CIA spies working in Iran over the past few years.

Trump: Iran is a mess and it is fabricating stories

President Donald Trump categorically denied the reports of Iran capturing spies from the CIA. He tweeted the claims are "totally false" and that the Middle Eastern state "is a total mess!"

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo poured more scorn on the claims, saying "the Iranian regime has a long history of lying."

He declined to comment specifically on the arrests, but added: "I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they've taken."

The announcement came after months of rapidly escalating confrontation between Tehran and Washington, and other NATO members after US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal and imposed economic sanctions, and more recently over the detainment of an oil tanker by British authorities that prompted a retaliatory seizure by Iran.

es/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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