Iran announced on Monday it had captured 17 spies working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and sentenced some of them to death, deepening a crisis between the Islamic Republic and the West.
Iranian state television published images that it said showed the CIA officers who had been in touch with the suspected spies.
In a statement read on state television, the Ministry of Intelligence said 17 spies had been arrested in the 12 months to March 2019. Some have been sentenced to death, according to another report.
Such announcements are not unusual in Iran, and are often made for domestic consumption. But the timing suggests Tehran could harden its position in a standoff with Western powers which has raised fears of a direct military confrontation.
In recent weeks the United States has blamed Iran for attacks on shipping near the Strait of Hormuz, the global oil trade’s most important waterway, accusations Iran has denied.
The United States and Iran have downed drones operated by the other side and on Friday, Iran captured a British-registered tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran had previously warned it would respond to Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar on July 4.
There was no immediate comment on the Iranian allegations by the CIA or U.S. officials.
Iran announced in June that it had broken up an alleged CIA spy ring but it was unclear whether Monday’s announcement was linked to the same case.