Eighteen people have been arrested in Saudi Arabia who were “involved in a spying cell for a state,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki told the state TV. “They were gathering information about installations and vital areas in the country,” according to the BBC. Al-Turki did not say what foreign state these men were working for, but it was implied to be Iran.
The men, who were arrested four days ago in the Eastern Province, Jeddah, Riyadh, and Mecca, were not named. It is known that 16 were Saudi men and Shiite Muslims (Saudi Arabia is majority Sunni). The other two arrested were an Iranian and a Lebanese man.
“These people are not at all known as politically active. They are active only in normal religious practices. So these accusations are really strange. This whole story is damaging relations with the community,” one Shi’ite leader, Jafar al-Shayeb, said.
The suspects’ houses were also raided, and computers and phones were confiscated, Reuters said.
Saudi Arabia has accused majority-Shia Iran of inciting anti-government protests, and Shias living in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province have often complained of being marginalized. The two countries have been fighting for influence in the Middle East since Iran’s 1979 revolution.
Last week, Saudi Arabia executed seven men who were arrested for robbery several years ago, over the protests of the international community and various human rights groups.