WASHINGTON — Iran said Monday it had arrested 17 spies working for the CIA and sentenced some of them to death, a claim President Trump dismissed as “just more lies and propaganda.”
It’s the latest escalation in the spiraling tensions between Iran and Western countries, following the capture by Iranian forces of a British oil tanker off the Iranian coastline Friday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged caution about the spy claim, saying it should be taken with “a significant grain of salt.”
Iran has claimed to have broken up American spy rings before, including in both April and June of this year.
The alleged spies were arrested over a period of 12 months before March 2019, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence said in a statement that was read on Iranian state television. They worked on “sensitive sites” in the country’s military and nuclear facilities, the ministry claimed.
A number of them were lured into working for the U.S. with promises of American visas and jobs, an unnamed Iranian official working for the Ministry of Intelligence told the country’s official Tasnim News Agency.
Some were sentenced to death while others have received lengthy prison sentences, the official told Tasnim.
The incident marks just the latest altercation between the U.S. and Iran. In late June, Iran shot down an American spy drone, prompting President Trump to say he came within minutes of ordering a retaliatory strike that would have killed some 150 Iranians.
On Friday, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard rappelled down from helicopters to seize a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for the UK capture of an Iranian vessel two weeks prior.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson described the seizure of the Stena Impero on Friday as “unacceptable and highly escalatory.”
The recent series of disputes between the U.S., UK and Iran fall against the backdrop of a broader standoff over Iran’s nuclear energy program, which Washington asserts is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran has insisted that strangling economic sanctions be removed before it enters into talks.
Cover: A speedboat of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard moves around a British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which was seized Friday by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, Sunday, July 21, 2019. Iranian officials say the seizure of the British oil tanker was a justified response to Britain's role in impounding an Iranian supertanker two weeks earlier off the coast of Gibraltar, a British territory located on the southern tip of Spain. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP)