TEHRAN (Reuters) - Two Iranian brothers, whose arrests last year sparked concern in the West, are among people accused of involvement in a U.S.-funded plot to overthrow the Islamic system of government, Iranian media said on Monday.
Iran’s judiciary last week said four Iranians had been detained in connection with a U.S.-sponsored conspiracy but did not name them, in an announcement that one Iranian analyst said was in part directed at incoming U.S. President Barack Obama.
“This is actually Iran’s message to Obama that they are closely monitoring any movement that the Americans may mastermind to undermine the Islamic Republic,” the analyst said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Obama, who assumes the U.S. presidency on Tuesday, has said he sees Iran as a “genuine threat” but he is also pledging to increase diplomatic efforts to engage it, in a shift from George W. Bush’s approach.
Iran often accuses the West of seeking to undermine the Islamic state through a “soft” or “velvet revolution” with the help of intellectuals and others inside the country.
The semi-official Fars News Agency, citing intelligence ministry officials, said two of those arrested were doctors Arash and Kamiar Alaei. Other media also named them.
Iran’s counter-intelligence director said the United States was seeking to infiltrate elite and expert circles and had spent $32 million on its “soft overthrow project,” Fars said.
The European Union last year called on Iran to release the Alaei brothers, who specialize in HIV/AIDS and who were arrested in June. The U.S. State Department has also expressed concern.
Diplomats and human rights groups say Iran has cracked down on dissenting voices since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, possibly in response to Western pressure on Tehran to halt its disputed nuclear work.
Under Bush, the United States has spearheaded a drive to isolate Iran over its disputed nuclear program with sanctions.
Washington has also earmarked tens of millions of dollars to promote democracy in Iran, but some Iranian activists have warned it gives the authorities fresh ammunition against them by portraying them as U.S. agents.
Iran, which rejects U.S. accusations its atomic activities are aimed at making bombs, says it allows free speech and denies accusations it violates human rights.
The counter-intelligence head said those arrested were among the plot’s main agents, “who cooperated with U.S. intelligence agents consciously and intentionally, and implemented their demands in detail,” Fars reported.
A number of Iranians had been lured into “this U.S. intelligence trap,” the official, who was not named, said.
The semi-official Mehr News Agency on Saturday said a Tehran court had jail a number of people over the allegations.
Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari; Editing by Matthew Jones