KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait has detained several people in a security probe, a government spokesman said on Monday, after media reports that a number of Kuwaitis and foreigners were being held on suspicion of spying for Iran.
Kuwaiti media, including independent daily newspaper al-Qabas, reported that a number of Kuwaitis and other nationals were arrested on accusations of gathering information for Iran on military sites in the Gulf Arab country.
Iran has denied the reports, which angered Kuwaiti lawmakers and prompted two to demand the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador if the reports prove to be true.
Asked about the reports, government spokesman Mohammad al-Busairi told reporters in parliament: “There are suspects and they are under investigation.”
“We cannot go into details ... on such national security issues because that would undoubtedly negatively affect investigations,” he said, adding the men would be referred to prosecution as soon as the inquiry was completed.
He did not give details of how many people were in custody.
Busairi’s comments, which did not refer to Iran by name, were the first official confirmation of the reports but he said details published in the media were inaccurate.
Al-Qabas said the cell had spied on Kuwaiti and U.S. military installations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
The Iranian Embassy said in a statement on Sunday the report was baseless and aimed at harming ties between the two countries, and “diverting the attention from the real threat to the area,” which the embassy said was Israel.
Iran’s English-language state Press TV quoted a senior guards official as dismissing the Kuwaiti reports as “false claims.”
Kuwait’s ties with Iran soured during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war because of Kuwait’s financial backing of Baghdad’s war effort. But relations have since improved.
Kuwaiti lawmakers reacted critically to the reports, with opposition lawmaker Mohammad Hayef al-Mutairi demanding the government expel the Iranian ambassador and recall its own envoy from Iran.
Al-Qabas quoted him as saying the moves would be “a first step the government would take in the right direction.”
Another member of parliament, Shuaib al-Muezeri, said: “We hope the government would clarify this case, and if it is proven, it has to be firm and to ask the Iranian ambassador to leave the country.” His comments were carried by al-Jarida daily.
Kuwait, which has a Shi’ite minority, supports a peaceful resolution to the standoff between the Islamic Republic and the West over the former’s nuclear ambitions.
Although Kuwait has been a major ally of Washington since the Gulf War, it has said it will not allow the U.S. military based in Kuwait to use its land or air space to attack Iran.
Reporting by Diana Elias