Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of running 18-member spy ring
March 27, 2013 5 Comments
By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The government of Saudi Arabia has publicly accused Iran of setting up an espionage ring consisting of 18 members, in order to spy on “vital sites and installations in the Kingdom”. On March 19, Saudi authorities announced the arrest of 18 men on suspicion of operating an extensive “spy network working for a foreign entity”. The men were reportedly arrested in coordinated raids in four different regions of the country, which included locations in Mecca, Medina, and Saudi capital Riyadh. Sixteen of the arrestees are Saudi citizens, while one is Lebanese and one is Iranian. At the time of the initial announcement, Saudi officials refused to name the “foreign entity” behind the alleged espionage ring. But intelNews noted that most of the arrests took place in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which is home to much of the country’s Shiite Muslim minority. This, in association with the two foreign detainees, led us to speculate that there could possibly be an Iranian connection to the alleged spy affair. On Tuesday, Major General Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman for the Kingdom’s Ministry of the Interior, said that there was “a direct link between members of this cell and Iran’s intelligence apparatus”. Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Al-Turki claimed that the government of Iran had provided members of the ring “regularly [with] sums of money in return for information and documents on important installations during the spy operation in the interest of [Iranian] agencies”. He added that the alleged link with Iran had been established during “preliminary investigations, physical evidence which has been collected, and statements from the accused in the case”. Tehran, however, has strongly denied Riyadh’s espionage charges. Additionally, relatives and friends of those arrested —who include academics, religious clerics and a banker— said they were not political and accused the Saudi government of victimizing the country’s Shiite minority. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been essentially non-existent since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the Shiite-dominated Iranian government accused the Saudis of being puppets of the United States and called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family. The souring of bilateral relations between the two countries has widened a domestic rift in Saudi Arabia between the country’s Sunni-dominated regime and the Shiite minority, whose members happen to be concentrated in some of the kingdom’s most oil-rich provinces. Many in Saudi Arabia tend to view the country’s two million Shiites (out of a total population of 28 million) as surreptitious agents of Iran.