The Iranian government has arrested tens of people after accusing them of being spies working for foreign governments.
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said on Wednesday that several suspects held dual nationalities, but refused to specify which countries they belonged to.
“I have repeatedly asked people to inform us if they know any dual national. The intelligence ministry’s anti-espionage unit has successfully identified and arrested tens of spies in different governmental bodies,” Alavi was quoted by ISNA, a semi-official news agency, on Tuesday.
Alavi did not specify the exact number of people arrest, nor did he say when they were apprehended.
Iran does not recognise dual nationality, but does not routinely announce arrests or charges of dual nationals.
After Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments about “infiltration” of Western agents in Iranian decision-making bodies, the number of arrests of dual citizens has increased.
According to the Reuters news agency, at least 30 dual nationals have been arrested in recent years by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, mostly on espionage charges.
Last week, an Iranian-British dual citizen was released for three days after being accused in February of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government.
Israel and ISIL
ISNA also quoted the Iranian minister saying “you have recently heard that we brought under our control a member of a cabinet of a powerful country”, without specifying which country.
This accusation potentially referred to former Israeli Energy Minister Gonen Segev, who was charged in June by Israel‘s internal security service for spying for Iran.
Segev, minister in 1995 and 1996, was arrested by Israeli authorities in 2004 for attempting to smuggle ecstasy pills into the country.
After his release in 2007, Segev moved to Nigeria, where he made contact with the Iranian embassy in 2012 according to Israeli investigators.
Alavi also talked about the arrest last month of at least one member of the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and the disbandment of a “terrorist cell” in the north of the country.
In June 2017, ISIL gunmen and suicide bombers attacked Iran’s parliament in central Tehran and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in the south of the city, leading to the death of 18 people.
Wednesday announcement comes at a time when tensions between Iran and the US are at an all-time high, with US President Donald Trump withdrawing from an international nuclear deal with Tehran, and re-imposing sanctions in a bid to further restrict the Iranian nuclear programme.
Under the breakthrough 2015 deal in Vienna, the Iranian government agreed to cut down its uranium stockpile and scale back its enrichment programme far below the level required to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran also agreed in perpetuity to notify United Nations inspectors if and when it builds a new nuclear facility.
In exchange, UN-approved sanctions were lifted in January 2016, and Tehran was allowed to resume trading oil and gas on the international market. A total of $100bn in frozen Iranian assets was also released.
Trump pulled out of the pact on May 8, fulfilling a 2016 campaign promise to withdraw from a deal which he once described as the “worst ever”.
The reimposition of US sanctions against Iran is a direct result of Trump’s decision, with US officials quoted as saying that Washington would exert “maximum economic pressure” on Iran and force it back to the negotiating table.