Iran detains American asylum-seeker as spy


Iranian authorities have arrested a 55-year-old American woman on suspicion of spying, state-controlled media said on Thursday. The reports said she had espionage equipment concealed in her teeth.

The accuracy of the accounts by the IRAN newspaper and the semiofficial Fars news agency could not immediately be verified, and the Iranian government withheld direct comment.

People briefed on the affair, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said the arrest seemed confusing since the woman, identified by the newspaper as Hall Talayan, had presented herself as an asylum-seeker when she entered Iran from Armenia.

By this account, the woman had told Iranian officials at the border town of Nordouz, 370 miles northwest of Tehran, that she would be killed if she returned to Armenia. She had personally vouchsafed that she had espionage equipment concealed in her teeth, these people said.

The newspaper said she had arrived without a visa, and Fars quoted an unidentified official as saying the woman was taken into custody about a week ago.

“The detained American spy told Iranian security officials that she would be killed if Iran extradites her to America,” the Fars report said.

If her arrest is confirmed, she will be the fourth American detained in Iranian border areas and accused of spying in less than two years.

The Iranian authorities are still holding two United States citizens, Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal, both 28, who were arrested in July 2009 on what was described as a hike in Iraqi Kurdistan, near the Iranian border. Their companion, Sarah E. Shourd, 32, was freed on bail in September in what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described as a “huge humanitarian gesture.”

In late December, Iran allowed relatives to visit two German journalists detained in October as they presumably sought to report the widely publicized case of an Iranian woman who could be stoned to death for adultery.

There was no immediate comment from Armenian authorities about the latest reports, and The Associated Press said the American Embassy in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, was closed for the Orthodox Christmas.

The report surfaced as Iranian officials prepared to meet again later this month in Istanbul with outside powers, including the United States, for discussions on Iran’s nuclear program. But there was no indication that the arrest was linked to those negotiations. NYT



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