Ten men were arrested in Saudi Arabia on suspicion of spying for Iran, the Ministry of Interior said on Tuesday. The official Saudi Press Agency published a statement quoting an MOI spokesman who said the ten men are 8 Saudi nationals in addition to two men from Lebanon and Turkey.
The latest arrests raise to 27 the number of people detained in connection to an alleged spy cell working for Iran. Saudi Arabia announced last March that it has arrested 18 men accused of spying for Iran. One of these men, a Lebanese citizen, was released due to lack of evidence on his involvement, the spokesman said.
Saudi authorities said in March that the alleged spies were collecting information about vital locations and installations and communicating about them with Iranian intelligence agencies. The two countries are locked in a struggle for influence in the Middle East.
Iran has denied any link to the spy cell , according to Iranian media reports quoted by AFP. “This is without any foundation. It is a scenario that is being repeated… for domestic consumption,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying, the news agency reported.
Most of the men arrested in March belong to Saudi Arabia’s minority Shia population. In two separate statements, Shia leaders in the country rejected the espionage accusations and called them suspicious.
“We believe that such claim aims to take advantage of the increasing sectarian tension in the region in order to distract from the escalating demands for political reform,” said one of the statements, signed by dozens of community leaders in Qatif and Ahsa in the Eastern Province. The Financial Times reported in April that several influential Shia clerics and intellectuals who signed the statements for questioning.
MOI spokesman Mansour al-Turki said in March that preliminary investigation revealed that the alleged spies have “received money in return for information and documents about vital installations in Saudi Arabia.”