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(CNN) — Iran has detained 17 Iranian citizens accused of acting as spies for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, according to the country’s Ministry of Intelligence.
An Intelligence Ministry document sent to CNN claims Iran had broken up a CIA spying ring and captured 17 suspects, all of whom confessed to acting as spies for the CIA.
“Defendants serving their sentences in prison mentioning tempting promises of CIA officers including emigration to USA, a proper job in America, and money,” the Intelligence Ministry document said. It added that the spy mission was to collect classified information “from substantial centers as well as intelligence/technical operations.”
The ministry said some of the 17 will be executed.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged caution in response to the announcement. Speaking on the Fox & Friends morning news show, he said: “The Iranian regime has a long history of lying … I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions they’ve taken.”
The announcement comes amid a standoff between Tehran and Western powers following President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran, and an accelerating series of recent maritime episodes, including Iran’s seizure of a UK-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.
Under the heading “Destiny of Spies,” Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said in the document: “Individuals who consciously and deliberately betrayed the country and refused to compensate for the losses have been handed over to the judiciary system. Others, who honestly cooperated with the security system and their remorsefulness have been proved, have been managed with intelligence direction against Americans.”
Tensions in the Strait of Hormuz
MAY 8, 2018
Trump announces he is pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran, adding he will initiate new sanctions. “Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States,” Trump says.
NOVEMBER 5, 2018
The United States officially reimposes all sanctions lifted under 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Rouhani vowed to continue oil exports, saying Iran will “proudly break the unjust sanctions.”
APRIL 8, 2019
Trump announces the United States will formally designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, a move some in the administration had opposed over concerns about potential risks to US troops in the Middle East.
According to US officials, the US launches two cyber attacks on Iran. One attack was a retaliatory cyberstrike against an Iranian spy group. The other attack was on an Iranian proxy group with forces in Iraq, Syria and inside Iran in the days after Iran shot down a US drone.
JUNE 20, 2019
Iran shoots down a United States military drone. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claims that the drone was shot down after it entered the country’s territory, while the US claims the drone was shot down in international airspace.
JUNE 24, 2019
Trump announces new sanctions against Iran in part to retaliate after the downing of a US drone the previous week, with the punitive measures set to target Iran’s Supreme Leader, military officials and its top diplomat, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
JULY 1, 2019
Zarif announces that Iran’s stockpiles of enriched low-grade uranium have exceeded the 300-kilogram limit set in a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
JULY 4, 2019
The Iranian oil-carrying vessel Grace 1 is seized by British authorities near Gibralter. Gibraltar’s territorial authorities had reason to believe the ship was “carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria” in violation of European Union sanctions, it said in a statement. Iran called the act “piracy.”
JULY 10, 2019
Armed Iranian boats try unsuccessfully to impede the passage of a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, according to two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident.
JULY 14, 2019
Over the weekend, Iran seizes an oil tanker that it claimed was carrying 1 million liters of “smuggled fuel,” according to state news agency Press TV.
JULY 18, 2019
US officials say the US Navy has destroyed an Iranian drone using electronic jamming, in a defensive action after it came too close to naval ship USS Boxer took. However, Iranian officials deny that any of their drones have been downed.
JULY 19, 2019
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announces that its navy has captured the British-flagged oil tanker, Stena Impero. It accuses the British tanker of “violating international regulations.”
A second tanker, the Liberian flagged MV Mesdar, was also seized, one US official tells CNN.
As well as the official announcement, Iran has also released a 20-minute video describing how authorities identified and broke up the alleged spy ring.
The film, which was widely played in Iranian media on Monday, featured Iran’s intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi, claiming that Iranian authorities identified CIA agents attempting to recruit Iranians.
Alavi did not provide any evidence to back up the claims, nor any details about those arrested.
CNN has approached the CIA for comment.