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Iran confirms arrest of woman described as American spy

An Iranian security official says a woman he says was on a U.S. espionage mission has been arrested, though her nationality remains in question.

January 09, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Beirut — A high-ranking Iranian security official confirmed reports of the arrest of a woman described as an American spy, state media reported, but her nationality remained in question Saturday.

Brig. Gen. Amir-Ahmad Geravand of the national border police first told reporters that a 34-year-old American woman named Hal Talaian had been arrested near the town of Jolfa along the Iran-Azerbaijan border, state-controlled Al Alam television and the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported.

But in a later radio interview, Geravand hedged his remarks on her nationality.

"She once said that she was an American national," he told state radio. "On another occasion, she said that she was a Swiss national. She has mentioned various countries."

The location of her arrest also was marked by confusion Saturday, with reports early in the day saying that Talaian had been detained along the Armenian border.

Such discrepancies and vagaries regarding state matters are common in Iran, where multiple, overlapping and competing intelligence and security organizations jostle with one another to pursue sometimes contradictory aims.

Iran already holds two Americans who allegedly crossed its western frontier with Iraq nearly 18 months ago. Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer have been held on espionage charges since July 31, 2009, when they and another friend, Sarah Shourd, were confronted by border guards during a hiking trip. Shourd was released in September.

Geravand said Talaian had entered Iran on a valid visa but was arrested Wednesday while "filming advanced equipment" under the guise of being a tourist. Al Alam cited Geravand as saying the woman was allegedly taking photographs of guard posts along the border.

"She was arrested while filming and she has confessed," Geravand told state radio.

"The legal procedure has taken its course and she has been handed over to the officials of the intelligence bureau," said Geravand, who said Talaian was "on assignment from an American espionage organization."

Earlier reports said Talaian had tried to cross the Iran-Armenian border near the town of Nordouz but was denied entry because she lacked a visa. Officials in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, had denied reports that someone fitting such a description had entered Armenia or been turned away or arrested at the Iranian border. The U.S. has also denied knowledge of any such person.

daragahi@latimes.com

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