x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Iran denies link to group arrested in Saudi Arabia for spying

Iran's foreign ministry yesterday denied the country was linked to a group of alleged spies arrested in Saudi Arabia.

Iran's foreign ministry today denied the country was linked to a group of alleged spies arrested in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that it had detained an Iranian, a Lebanese, and 16 Saudis for spying. Political analysts and press in Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind the alleged espionage.

The two countries are locked in a struggle for influence across the region, backing opposing sides in Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. Gulf Arab foreign ministers, meeting in Riyadh last month, issued a statement condemning what they said was Iranian "meddling" in their countries, an accusation Tehran rejects.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, denied that an Iranian national was involved in the alleged spy ring and called the allegations a "repetitive scenario", according to Iran's English-language Press TV.

"Raising such baseless issues at the media level is merely for domestic consumption," he said.

Leaders of Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority have also criticised the arrests of 16 members of their community, which they said sought to exploit sectarian tension.

The Saudi government has previously blamed unrest among Shiites in the Qatif district of Eastern Province on an unnamed foreign power, which officials privately acknowledge means Iran, a charge Saudi Shiite activists have denied. Sixteen people in Qatif have been killed in clashes with police in the past two years.

Riyadh also accuses Tehran of having masterminded an alleged plot to assassinate its ambassador in Washington that was announced by US police in late 2011. Iran denies this.

Kuwait said in 2010 it had uncovered an Iranian spy ring, Yemen said last year it had arrested Iranian spies and that Tehran was backing rebels in the north, and Bahrain has accused Iran of plotting attacks on its territory. Tehran has denied all these charges.