Iran claimed today that it had arrested anti-government separatists with links to British intelligence services, accusing them of involvement in violent protests and a recent spate of deadly bombings.
A statement issued on state-run TV did not say how many people had been detained or reveal their nationalities, but alleged they were arrested in the south-western Khuzestan province, which borders British-controlled southern Iraq.
“The agents arrested have confessed to belonging to separatist opposition groups and having links with foreign especially British intelligence services,” a TV announcer said, quoting a ministry statement.
British Embassy officials in Tehran could not be reached immediately for comment.
The statement added that intelligence ministry forces had identified and arrested “all those involved in recent bombings and unrest in Khuzestan.” It did not say when the arrests took place.
In June, four bomb blasts rocked oil-rich Khuzestan’s capital, Ahvaz, killing eight people and injuring many more. The bombings were the deadliest in Iran in more than a decade, and seriously damaged government buildings.
Ahvaz was also the site of two days of violent protests during April, triggered by false rumours of an alleged plan to decrease the proportion of Arabs in the area.
Officials at the time confirmed one death but opposition groups said more than 20 demonstrators had been killed while some 250 were arrested.
Iran has also accused the US of stoking unrelated tensions in north-western Iran’s Kurdish regions.
On Sunday, foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi suggested that Washington and London were encouraging Arabs and Kurds who have rioted in north-western and south-western Iran.
“According to some information, the Americans intervened in north-western Iran. This is not acceptable at all,” Mr Asefi told a news conference. “We will voice our objection in this regard soon.”
No further details were available on the claims of US involvement.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “We stand with the Iranian people in their aspirations for greater freedom and greater democracy and greater human rights in their own country.”
He said: “the problem is the behaviour of the Iranian government, frankly.”
The unrest has also rocked several Kurdish towns in north-western Iran including Mahabad over the past month. Clashes with police and arrests led to more protests, with shopkeepers partly shuttering their businesses and the government closing down two newspapers and detaining journalists and activists.
Security forces were also said to be among an unspecified number of those hurt and killed.
The Kurdish opposition group PEJAK, which stands in Kurdish for the “Party of Free Life of Kurdistan,” has called on Kurds in western Iran to begin civil disobedience.
The group has clashed with Iranian security forces in recent weeks with Tehran saying it will confront the “terrorist” group.