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.”
Abeer Allam reports for the Financial Times:
Saudi authorities have called in several influential Shia Muslim clerics and intellectuals for questioning, as last month’s arrest of 16 people on charges of spying for Iran threatens to raise tensions between leaders of the religious minority and the government in the oil-rich kingdom.
Over the past days and weeks, the interior ministry has summoned scores of clerics and intellectuals from the towns of Ihsaa and Qatif in the oil-producing eastern province for interrogation, Saudi activists say.
Ihsaa is an unusual spelling for the region often spelled as Ahsa or Hasa.
Dozens of Saudi Shia on Wednesday urged the authorities to free members of an alleged Iran-linked spy cell dismantled last week, accusing Riyadh of using sectarianism to settle foreign scores.
The 135 signatories, among them 36 clerics, “strongly reject the offensive accusation against them… as the detainees are good citizens who have high scientific competence and a respectable social status,” they said in a statement.
A similar statement was published last week.
After making several contradictory statements over Iran’s link to the spy cell, it seems now that the Saudi Ministry of Interior can finally confirm that the alleged spies have a link to Iran. The official Saudi Press Agency published a brief statement today quoting MOI’s spokesman as saying that the initial investigations on the 18 people accused of espionage revealed that they have a connection to Iranian intelligence agencies. “Those members [of the spy cell] have received money in return for information and documents about vital installations,” the statement said, adding that investigations are still ongoing.
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.
Dozens of Shia figures from Qatif and Ahsa in eastern Saudi Arabia issued a statement on Wednesday rejecting the espionage accusations after the government arrested 16 Shia citizens for allegedly spying for a foreign country. The brief statement, signed by 37 Shia community leaders like Sheikh Hasan al-Saffar and others, said the accusations are “rejected and suspicious” and called on the government to begin political reform. The statement read in full:
What the Ministry of Interior spokesman stated about accusing a number of Shia citizens who are well known for their patriotism and integrity of taking part in a spying cell is a rejected and suspicious claim. 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 and ending detention without a fair trial that is currently affecting thousands of citizens.
As we reject these claims, we demand an end for the policy of playing the sectarian card, call to remedy the country’s problems and take steps towards political reform, adopting equality, protecting human rights and work diligently to strengthen national unity.
May God protect our country and our people of every harm.
Saudi Arabia announced late Tuesday that the intelligence service had arrested an Iranian, a Lebanese and 16 Saudis for spying. Speaking to state television, MOI spokesman Mansour al-Turki refused to name the foreign country linked to the arrests but it is widely believed to be Iran. The two countries are locked in a struggle for influence in the Middle East.
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. Jafar al-Shayeb, a Shia leader from Qatif, told Reuters Wednesday that this issue is damaging relations with the community. “These people are not at all known as politically active. They are active only in normal religious practices,” he said. “So these accusations are really strange.”
Saudi Arabia arrested 16 citizens and two foreigners for spying, the state news agency reported Tuesday. The official Saudi Press Agency quoted the Ministry of Interior Spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki as saying authorities have arrested 16 Saudis, one Iranian and one Lebanese in a coordinated security across four different regions in the country.
Al-Turki said those arrested were collecting information about vital locations and installations and communicating about them with intelligence agencies in that foreign country. Asked on state television what foreign country these alleged spies worked for, al-Turki refused to name it saying it is in the interest of investigation not to identify that foreign country.
However, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi told Al Arabiya television shortly after MOI released the statement that the alleged spying network is connected to Iran. Khashoggi said those arrested include a Shia cleric in Jeddah, a doctor and an employee of Aramco. Local Shia news site Rasid reported Monday that a number of Shia citizens in Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca and the Eastern Province were arrested for unknown motives. Now it appears that the arrests were related to today’s announcement.
AFP published a story earlier today identifying some of the arrested:
The arrests include Dr Abbas Al Abbad, who works at the Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, university professor Ali Al Haji and banker Ahmad Al Nasser, said the activists.
The three who were arrested in the capital are originally from Al Ahsa city, in the Eastern Province, where the kingdom’s Shiite minority is concentrated.
Security forces also simultaneously arrested Ebrahim Al Humaidi in the capital, and his brother Hussain in the town of Sihat, also in the Eastern Province, the sources said requesting anonymity.
In the western city of Jeddah, police arrested Shiite cleric Mohammad Al Attiyah, while cleric Badr Al Taleb, from Sihat, was arrested in Makkah, also in the Western Region, activists said, adding that another Shiite Abdullah Khamis was arrested in Ahsa.