One of the 16 Saudi men arrested last week for spying has been released, local news site Rasid reported today. The Qatif-based site which focuses on news of the Shia minority said that Yousef al-Maani from Ahsa region was released Friday night. Al-Maani was one of 18 men, 16 citizens and two foreigners, who were accused by the Saudi government of spying for Iran.
A group of community Shia leaders released a statement on Wednesday rejecting the espionage accusations and said the government was using the arrests to “distract from the escalating demands for political reform.” The family of Ali al-Hajji, another man who was arrested in the same case, published a similar statement online today defending him and saying the university professor is “above the level of suspicion.” Shia leaders have expressed their fear that the arrests would worsen the already-tense relations between their community and the Sunni majority in the country.
Saudi Arabia announced on March 19 that the intelligence service had arrested an Iranian, a Lebanese and 16 Saudi citizens for spying. Although MOI spokesman Mansour al-Turki initially refused to name the foreign country linked to the arrests, Arab News quoted him Thursday naming Iran as the country in question. Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a struggle for influence in the region.