Iran’s state media made the claim on Monday that authorities arrested 17 spies recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on its nuclear and military sites.
The semi-official Fars news agency said some of them have been sentenced to death.
It was not clear if all the alleged spies were Iranian nationals.
The Fars news agency published images that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said showed the CIA officers who it claimed were connecting with the suspected spies. The ministry said the agents had infiltrated organizations and institutions in Iran’s private sector.
There was no immediate response from the CIA or U.S. officials about Iran’s claim.
The arrests occurred over the past few months and come at the same time that Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers is under increasing strain. Washington withdrew a year ago from the accord and renewed economic sanctions on Iran. Tensions between the U.S., Britain and Iran have increased in the Persian Gulf region near the Strait of Hormuz.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will chair an emergency security session Monday to discuss how to respond to Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway that is vital to the world’s oil supply.
The “Stena Impero” tanker was seized Friday and is now in a heavily guarded Iranian port. Britain is considering a number of options to raise the pressure on Iran. But officials say military operations are not being considered. The seizure followed a threat by Iran to respond to Britain’s impounding of an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar, in the Mediterranean Sea. Britain said was on its way to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Iran disputes that its tanker was trying to reach Syria, a close ally.
An audio recording released Sunday revealed the tense moments before the “Stena Impero” was seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces rappelling from helicopters.
Also, State TV in Iran aired a documentary Monday that purported to show a CIA officer recruiting an Iranian man in the United Arab Emirates. It was not clear if the broadcast was connected to the announcement about the alleged spies.
Last month, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry claimed it “penetrated the U.S. safe system in cyberspace” used by the CIA for communicating with American agents, according to Press TV, a state-run network that broadcasts in English. The CIA, which rarely publicly comments on its national security activities, did not respond to the allegation.