Saudi Arabia arrests 18 on espionage charges

Saudi Arabia
Authorities in Saudi Arabia announced the arrest yesterday of 18 people accused of conducting “espionage activities for the benefit of a foreign country”. Speaking on Saudi state television, Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said the men were arrested on suspicion of being members of an extensive “spy network working for a foreign entity”, which he refused to name. He added that the arrestees had been “gathering information about installations and vital areas” in Saudi Arabia, and were “providing intelligence agencies of that state with it”. He told reporters that the arrests were made five days ago, after Saudi security agencies received information of a foreign-instigated spy ring operating in the oil-rich kingdom. The alleged members of the ring were reportedly arrested during several coordinated raids in four different regions of the country, which included locations in Mecca, Medina, and capital Riyadh. Sixteen of those arrested are said to be Saudi citizens, while one is reportedly Lebanese and one is Iranian. It is worth noting that many of the suspected spy ring members were arrested in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which is home to much of the country’s Shiite Muslim minority. In association with the two foreign detainees, this detail may point to a possible Iranian connection to the alleged spy affair. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been essentially non-existent ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the Shiite-dominated Iranian government accused the Saudis of being puppets of the United States and called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family. The souring of bilateral relations between the two countries has caused a domestic rift in Saudi Arabia between the country’s Sunni-dominated regime and the Shiite minority, whose members happen to be concentrated in some of the kingdom’s most oil-rich provinces. Many in Saudi Arabia tend to view the country’s two million Shiites (out of a total population of 28 million) as surreptitious agents of Iran. It is also worth noting that, on Tuesday, human rights activists in Saudi Arabia told journalists that Saudi security forces had arrested several Shiites in raids across the kingdom, including two prominent Shiite clerics. It is not known at this point whether the arrests are connected with the alleged espionage ring raids announced yesterday.

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