(NEW YORK) — The Iranian government claimed Tuesday that it had arrested members of an Israeli-backed “terror” network plotting assassinations and sabotage inside the country.
Iran’s intelligence ministry announced via state-run media that it had disbanded a “large and sophisticated Israeli terror and sabotage network after months of operations” just as the network was planning fresh attacks.
The statement also said that the government’s apprehension of the “devils led to the discovery of the Zionists’ regional command center” in a third country.
Iran has blamed Israel, the UK and the U.S. for a series of assassinations of nuclear scientists and explosions and disruptions at missile sites that began in 2007.
Iran has also accused neighboring Azerbaijan of sheltering spies who are planning attacks inside Iran. Iranian state media quoted an unidentified government official saying that “heavy bombs, machine guns, hand guns” and telecommunication equipment were recovered during the arrests, and that some arrests involved firefights.
Iranian accounts also cited past arrests of alleged “CIA and Israeli spies,” saying that Iranian intelligence had disrupted an “espionage network” with a dozen members in Iran and Lebanon with the help of Hezbollah in 2011. U.S. officials confirmed to ABC News in November 2011 that Iran and Hezbollah had “rolled up” two distinct CIA espionage networks.
Time magazine reported in March that Israel was scaling back covert operations inside Iran, including assassinations, sabotage and spy recruitment, because of concerns that its networks had been compromised. According to Time, security officials said the confession by Majid Jamali Fashi that he had assassinated nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohammad by motorcycle bomb in January 2010 was legitimate. Fashi, who has been sentenced to death, claimed that he was paid $120,000 by Mossad to carry out the hit.
Several of the scientists who were killed or wounded by unknown assailants in Iran were attacked by motorcyclists using so-called “sticky” magnetic bombs, or via bombs apparently placed inside motorcycles. In two incidents of apparent attempted retaliation, a motorcyclist placed a sticky bomb on an Israeli vehicle in India, and Iranian suspects were allegedly interrupted before they could mount an attack in Bangkok.
Azerbaijani authorities said they had disrupted a similar Iranian plot against Israeli, U.S. and Jewish targets inside Azerbaijan, and accused the suspects of links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The 22 Azerbaijani nationals arrested in the alleged conspiracy in March were originally accused of treason, but now reportedly face only drugs and weapons charges.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN