Iran’s intelligence ministry has said it has detained 17 “trained intelligence officers” of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating inside Iran at sensitive facilities, adding that some will be sentenced to death.
"The rulings for these spies have been issued and a number of them will be executed as corruptors," the director general of the intelligence ministry's counterespionage department said in a press conference in Tehran on July 22, according to Fars News.
According to the official, they were employed as contractors and consultants in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber spheres.
"Since CIA abuses the process of U.S. visa application, some of the Iranian citizens get into the visa trap and they are asked to be hired as spies in return for a U.S. visa. Some others who intended to maintain or extend their visas, have been framed up by the CIA, in violation of the US laws.”
Fars news agency released photos of the captured spies as well as some relevant documents pertaining to the case. The photos seem to be personal or family photos rather than images of people in detention.
The detentions reportedly took place in March, but have only been made public as of Monday.
In addition, an Iranian documentary which aired on state television that day purported to show a CIA officer recruiting an Iranian man while the pair were in the UAE.
In April, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said the country has identified 290 CIA agents across different countries, forcing the U.S. to form a special committee to reassess its cloak-and-dagger operations.
In June, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said the country’s intelligence apparatus has successfully discovered and dealt a serious blow to a cyber-espionage network that was allegedly run by the CIA and operated in several countries.
Monday’s announcement came after months of growing confrontation between the West and Iran since U.S. sanctions took effect at the start of May against Iran.
On July 19, Iran seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz after British Royal marines on July 4 seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar for allegedly attempting to illegally smuggle oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC that Stena Impero was surrounded by four vessels and a helicopter, saying the seizures were "completely unacceptable" and "freedom of navigation must be maintained.”