Iran announced Monday that it has arrested 17 Iranian nationals allegedly recruited by the CIA to spy on the country’s nuclear and military sites, and that some of them have already been sentenced to death.
The arrests have been carried out in recent months and those arrested have been working in “sensitive sites” in the country’s military and nuclear facilities, an Iranian intelligence official said at a press conference in Tehran.
He did not specify, nor how many of them were sentenced to death, or when.
In response to Iran’s claims, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “can not comment accurately, but Iran has always lied.”
The announcement comes as the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers fades and tensions rise in the Gulf region. The crisis stems from President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of Tehran’s deal last year and intensify sanctions against the country.
The Iranian official has not given his name, but has been identified as director of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence’s counterintelligence department.
Such a procedure is very unusual in Iran; public servants usually identify themselves at press conferences. It is also rare for intelligence agents to appear before the media.
The official claimed that none of the 17, who would have had a “sophisticated training”, had achieved his sabotage missions.
Their espionage missions included gathering information from the facilities where they were working, carrying out technical and intelligence activities, and transferring and installing surveillance devices, he said.
From time to time, Iran announces the detention of spies who, he says, work for foreign countries, including the United States and Israel.
In June, Iran announced that it had executed a former Defense Ministry staff member convicted of espionage on behalf of the CIA.
In April, Iran revealed that it had discovered 290 CIA spies inside and outside the country in recent years.