(AFP) – An alleged spy cell dismantled last week in Saudi Arabia had “direct links” to Iran’s intelligence services, the kingdom’s interior ministry said on Tuesday.
“Preliminary investigations and physical evidence that has been collected as well as the defendants’ statements on this case have all revealed direct links between this cell and Iranian intelligence services,” a ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.
“These elements had regularly received sums of money in return for information and documents on important installations during the spy operation in the interest of these services,” it said.
On March 19, the interior ministry in Riyadh said authorities had arrested 16 Saudis, an Iranian and a Lebanese citizen in four regions including Eastern Province, where the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s Shiite minority is concentrated.
But Iranian media reported on Sunday that the Shiite-dominated Islamic republic has denied any link to the suspected spy cell.
“Investigations are still ongoing with members of this cell and legal procedures will be taken against them,” said the Saudi statement.
Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council have strained ties with Iran which they suspect of supporting Shiite opposition protests in GCC member Bahrain, which like its partners is Sunni-ruled.