By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 10, 2011; 2:14 PM
TEHRAN - Iran's Intelligence Ministry has arrested a "network of spies and terrorists" allegedly connected to Israel and responsible for the assassination of a prominent scientist last year, the ministry said in a statement.
The statement said that months of widespread operations had led to the "deep infiltration" by Iranian intelligence agents of Israel's spy agency, the Mossad. This resulted in the discovery of "extremely important information on Mossad spy teams, which led to the arrest of some of these agents inside Iran," said the statement, which was carried by the semiofficial Mehr News Agency and other local media.
"They have confessed to being trained by the Mossad and receiving all of their equipment from that agency," Ismael Kowsari, a member of the National Security Commission of parliament, told the Fars News Agency.
Iran regularly says it has arrested spy rings or terrorists working for foreign intelligence agencies, but it rarely provides evidence to support the claims. The public statement, issued on the anniversary of the assassination, promised that more details would be given at "an appropriate time."
State television Monday aired statements by a man introduced as "the arrested person" in connection with the assassination of the scientist. He was shown sitting on a chair in a dark room.
He said that he travelled with Israeli officers to Jerusalem, where he had received training on a military base. "They gave me training there in following cars, obtaining information," the man said. He was also given Iranian-made motorcycles to practice placing bombs on the side of cars.
"They said, 'Take this route, stop in that place, call ths number. Then they showed me a small model of the house [presumably the scientist's house]. It was an exact copy , even the material, its color, the tree next to it,all was the same." The report ended with statements of a woman said to be the wife of the victim, saying "the enemies will never be able to stop Iran's independence."
In Israel, officials in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office had no immediate comment on Monday's announcement, the Associated Press reported.
Three mysterious assassination attempts have been carried out against Iranian scientists since 2009, and the country's nuclear program has been sabotaged and at least temporarily sidetracked by a computer virus, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in November. Iran regularly accuses the United States, Israel and Britain of trying to destabilize the country.
In December, Iran hanged a man, identified by authorities as Ali Akbar Siadat, on charges of selling military information to the country's archenemy, Israel. And in October, the Intelligence Ministry said it had arrested several "nuclear spies" who used the Internet to "obstruct" Iran's nuclear program. Details on both cases were promised but never provided.
Monday's statement on the arrest of alleged spies is related to the assassination of Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, a professor of physics who was killed in January 2010 by a bomb attached to a parked motorcycle.
In November, two nuclear scientists were simultaneously attacked by two teams of motorcyclists who attached bombs to their vehicles during morning traffic. One of the men, Majid Shahriari, was killed instantly. The other, Feyedoon Abbasi, who is barred from international travel by United Nations sanctions, survived the attack. Iranian authorities said both men played important roles in Iran's nuclear energy program.
Both Ali-Mohammadi and Shahriari were known for their involvement in a regional, nonnuclear scientific research project - called Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, or SESAME - in which Israel also participates. The involvement of both Iran and Israel makes the project unusual, because Iran does not recognize Israel and has no ties to the Jewish state.
The SESAME project is based in Jordan, under the auspices of the United Nations. It includes scientists from several Middle Eastern countries. Iranian and foreign scientists say the project has applications in industry, medicine, nanotechnology and other fields unrelated to nuclear power.
At the time of Ali-Mohammadi's assassination, Iranian news media and officials described him as a nuclear physicist, while academics in Iran and abroad said he specialized in particle and theoretical physics and had no apparent connection with nuclear physics. Tehran University listed him as a professor of elementary particle physics. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which controls the country's nuclear program, said he was not affiliated with the agency.
The Intelligence Ministry statement said the alleged Mossad agents used bases in some European and non-European countries, as well as neighboring states.
"Such bases were used for operation control in the dastardly assassination of Dr. Massoud Ali-Mohammadi," the statement said.
Kowsari, who is an influential member of parliament, suggested that there was a connection between the alleged agents and the November assassination of Shahriari.
"Since all the assassins of our scientists are instructed by Mossad, the method of arresting them should remain secret," he told the Fars News Agency. "However, I can say we will soon witness the arrest of Shahriari's hit men as well."