AFP: Egypt will expel an Iranian diplomat who was briefly detained on suspicion of spying on the North African country for Tehran’s intelligence services, security officials said on Sunday.
by Samer al-Atrush
CAIRO, May 29, 2011 (AFP) – Egypt will expel an Iranian diplomat who was briefly detained on suspicion of spying on the North African country for Tehran’s intelligence services, security officials said on Sunday.
The officials said the diplomat, who had been released earlier in the day, would be “expelled within 48 hours.”
The decision was made public shortly after the man, identified as Qasim al-Hosseini, an employee at Iran’s mission in Cairo, was freed after his arrest on suspicion of spying for Tehran’s intelligence services.
Egypt’s official MENA news agency had earlier reported that the state security prosecution let Hosseini go after it was “notified by the (Egyptian) foreign ministry that he was a diplomat in the Iranian mission.”
It quoted a security official saying that Hosseini “breached diplomatic protocol” by organising a spy ring to glean Egypt’s military and economic secrets.
An initial probe found he gathered “information about Egypt on the latest developments the country has experienced and the conditions through which it is passing, then sent them to Iran’s intelligence services.”
The Iranian interests section in Cairo had denied that Hosseini was arrested.
“He is in the embassy as I speak. It did not happen that way, he was not arrested,” an official in the section told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Earlier, in Tehran, the Arabic-language television channel Al-Alam quoted a source as saying that Hosseini “is currently in his office and working normally” in Cairo.
“We are following the case,” he added without elaborating.
Iran and Egypt have no diplomatic ties and relations between the two countries were tense under former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Tehran severed diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1980 in protest at Cairo’s peace treaty with Israel signed a year earlier, and the two states maintain only interests sections in each other’s capitals.
But the two Muslim countries have signalled they plan to mend ties in the wake of the fall of Mubarak’s regime on February 11 this year.
Mubarak’s regime had accused Shiite Iran of trying to gain a foothold in the Sunni country through a plot by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah to attack tourist sites and shipping in the Suez Canal.
The defendants in the case, several who received life sentences, said they were merely sending arms to Palestinian militants in the neighbouring Gaza Strip and Iran denied Cairo’s assertions.