Tuesday, August 31, 2004

IHT: Iran arrests suspected nuclear spies

IHT: Iran arrests suspected nuclear spies: "Teheran aide accuses an opposition group

TEHRAN Iran's intelligence minister, Ali Yunessi, said Tuesday that "several people" had been arrested for spying on the country's nuclear program, the official news agency IRNA reported.

Yunessi said those arrested "were sending information on Iran's nuclear activities abroad," but he did not say when the arrests took place.

Referring to the People's Mujahedeen, Iran's main armed opposition group, which is based in Iraq, he said the "Monafeqin," or hypocrites, "played the main role in transferring the information."

The political wing of the People's Mujahedeen, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, first began disclosing information on the nuclear activities of the clerical regime in mid-2002.

Yunessi referred to a series of news conferences held by the group in Washington before the start of a major investigation by the UN nuclear monitoring group, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The group had disclosed the presence of an undeclared enrichment facility at Natanz in the center of the Islamic republic, asserting that the site was part of a nuclear weapons drive. Iran has since allowed tough UN inspections, and insists it is merely trying to produce fuel for its atomic energy program. The government denies it is developing weapons of mass destruction.

Subsequent inspections of Natanz by the atomic energy agency disclosed traces of highly-enriched uranium - possibly weapons-grade - which Iran contends came into the country on equipment bought on the black market.

That question remains one of the main outstanding issues for the atomic energy agency, which is due to hold fresh discussions on Iran beginning Sept. 13.

More recently, the People's Mujahedeen has asserted that Iran was seeking to cover up a biological weapons plant at Lavizan in Tehran where, satellite images showed, buildings had been razed and topsoil removed.

The atomic energy agency has since inspected the site, and results from soil samples taken there are expected in coming weeks.

Yunessi was speaking to reporters during "government week," when ministers give an account of their performance in office.

"The department of counterespionage in the Intelligence Ministry possesses the most modern technology and controls the infiltration of foreign spying services," he said, adding that in total "tens of spies in all domains" had been picked up. Yunessi also accused the United States and European secret services of unsuccessfully using former Qaeda operatives against the Islamic republic. The minister told reporters that elements that were no longer a part of Al Qaeda "were infiltrated by intelligence services from America, Europe and even the region.""

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