Saudi Arabia: 18 suspected spies arrested


A general view shows hundreds of thousands of piligrims praying at Mecca's Grand Mosque on October 31, 2011, as more than 1.5 million Muslims have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage to the shrine city, the world's largest annual human assembly which peaks on November 5.


Fayez Nureldine

Saudi Arabian officials said today that they had arrested 18 people – an Iranian, a Lebanese citizen and 16 Saudis – for spying on the kingdom for a foreign country, Voice of America reported. The officials did not specify which foreign country the spies were working for.

The arrests occurred four days ago, Reuters reported. The alleged spies were rounded up in four regions across the country, VOA reported.

"This is a case of espionage and those have been involved with a spy network working for a foreign country," Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki told state television, according to Reuters. "They were gathering information about installations and vital areas in the country and providing intelligence agencies of that state with it.”

The presence of an Iranian among the arrests indicates that the spy cell could have been working for Iran, according to Agence France-Presse.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have had a frosty relationship since the 1980s, Reuters reported. The relationship was further strained this year when Saudi Arabia sent soldiers to Bahrain to help put down a Shi'ite-led uprising.

According to Reuters:

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran consider themselves protectors of Islam's two main rival sects.

More from GlobalPost: Special Report: Saudi Arabia: The Road Beyond 9-11