An official with the Iranian Interior Ministry has denied a claim by Saudi Arabia that Riyadh has arrested three members of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Majid Aqa-Babaei, the ministry’s director general for border affairs, told the Young Journalists Club on Monday, that, “Saudi Arabia’s claim about the arrest of Iranian military forces is not true.”
Earlier in the day, Saudi Arabia’s information ministry had said in a statement that Saudi forces had captured and were questioning “three IRGC members, who were intending to carry out an attack on a major offshore oilfield in the Persian Gulf,” according to an Associated Press (AP) report.
“The three were onboard [sic] a boat carrying a large number of explosives headed toward the Marjan oil field, located off the kingdom’s eastern shores between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” the report read.
Aqa-Babaei had on Saturday said that the Saudi Arabian coastguard had opened fire on Iranian fishing boats in the waters south of Iran, killing one fisherman.
Saudi Arabia, too, had reported the incident soon after it happened but had not made the claims about arrests and explosives. It offered a changed narrative, however, with the information ministry statement, which came some two days after the initial narrative.
In his Monday remarks, Aqa-Babaei referred to the new allegation about the arrests and said, “This issue has to do with the same two fishing boats” that had been shot at.
He said the Iranians in question were “simply fishermen” and had no types of weapons whatsoever.
In a separate interview with the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) on Monday, Aqa-Babaei confirmed that three Iranians — all known fishermen from the southern Iranian city of Bushehr — had been taken into custody by the Saudi Arabian coastguard.
Saudi Arabia has severed its diplomatic ties with Iran. And Iran’s Foreign Ministry has been following up on the issue through indirect diplomatic channels.
Observers say Saudi rulers have interpreted US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh as some kind of a green light to Riyadh to pursue its policies more aggressively.
The killing of the Iranian fisherman and the arrest of the other three come following that trip and also after Saudi Arabia led a group of its vassal states in cutting ties to Qatar. While the Saudi-led bloc of countries have accused Doha of sponsoring terrorism, most observers say the severance of ties and an accompanying economic war on Qatar have to do with the fact that Doha pursues its relations with Iran more independently of Riyadh.
A Saudi Arabian minister said last month that his country would work to move “the battle” to Iran. Another Saudi minister said on June 6 that Iran had to be “punished” for what he called interference in the region. Hours later, two terrorist attacks hit the Iranian capital, Tehran, killing 17 people and wounding 50 other people. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attacks.