By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 8, 2011; 6:13 PM
TEHRAN - Iranian officials confirmed Saturday that they have arrested an "American" woman whom they accuse of spying on Iranian border posts for the United States. The remarks added to confusion about the woman's identity and fate since Iranian state media first announced the arrest three days ago, then later denied it.
"The female American spy was arrested at the Jolfa border" with Azerbaijan, the deputy commander of Iran's state border police, Gen. Ahmad Geravand, said at a news conference Saturday, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency and other local media. He also said the woman had "confessed" but did not specify what she had confessed to.
Fars identified the woman as Hal Falayan, 34, although on Thursday the agency had given her name as Hal Talayan and her age as 55. The reason for the discrepancies remains unclear.
Geravand told reporters that Falayan was arrested Wednesday.
"This 34-year-old lady is called Hal Falayan and was filming the Jolfa border strip, border market and border garrison as a tourist when she was arrested by border patrols," he said, according to the semiofficial ISNA, Iran's student news agency. "She was using advanced equipment."
In an interview later with state radio, Geravand said he was not certain the woman was American. "She once said that she was an American national. On another occasion, she said that she was a Swiss national. She has mentioned various countries," he said. He also said in the interview that the woman had an entry visa for Iran.
Early reports had said the woman had been attempting to enter Iran from Armenia, but Jolfa, the town where she was arrested, actually borders the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, an exclave of Azerbaijan.
The authorities' confirmation of an arrest followed several days of contradictory reports in Iran's news media.
On Wednesday, the Tabnak Web site, which is critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration, reported that an American woman who was found to have spying equipment - allegedly a camera or a microphone - hidden in her teeth was arrested while trying to enter Iran without a visa.
Also Wednesday, the Mashregh news agency published on its Web site a photo of a woman accompanied by police and holding a scarf before her face, saying it was an image of the "American spy."
On Friday, the state-run Arabic-language news channel al-Alam, which is the main outlet for international messages from the country's leaders, denied reports of an arrest. The same day, both the United States and Armenia denied that a person by the name of Talayan had gone missing. U.S. officials stressed, however, that they had searched their records for the name Talayan, as initially reported. It is not clear whether an American by the name of Falayan has gone missing.
In July 2009, Iran arrested three Americans - a woman and two men - near the border with Iraq and accused them of illegally crossing into Iran to commit espionage, a charge they and the State Department deny.
The two men, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, are awaiting their first court hearing, scheduled for Feb. 6. The woman, Sarah Shourd, was released in September on humanitarian grounds after posting $500,000 bail.