A senior military advisor to the Supreme Leader says environmentalists may be using animals to spy.
“In the context of hybrid warfare, every environmentalist and scientist active in agricultural studies or foreign tourist in Iran might be a spy,” Major General Hasan Firouzabadi told the state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) in an interview February 13.
His comments were in response to outcry from human rights groups over the recent suspicious death of environmentalist Professor Kavous Seyed-Emami.
Seyed-Emami was arrested January 24 along with several other environmental activists. Seventeen days later, Emami’s son, Ramin, tweeted the news of his father’s death while in custody at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. He said the family had been told it was a suicide. Lawyers for the family say authorities have not provided any evidence that Seyed-Emami took his own life.
“The news of my father’s passing is impossible to fathom,” Ramin Seyed-Emami, an Iranian musician also known as King Raam, tweeted February 10. “I still can’t believe this.”
While admitting that he is unaware of the specifics of Seyed-Emami’s case, Firouzabadi maintained, “The Western countries have decided that war with the Islamic Republic can’t be waged militarily, politically, or culturally, so they said ‘Let’s fight it with all the means at our disposal’ and branded it as hybrid warfare.”
Seyed-Emami, who was 63 years old, is the third person to have allegedly committed suicide while in custody in the Islamic Republic in the last two months.
The news of Seyed-Emami’s death coincided with an announcement by Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi about the detention of “a number” of environmental activists on charges of “espionage in the area of environment.”
“Those arrested were collecting classified strategic information under the cover of scientific environmental projects,” Dolatabadi said.
Dolatabadi confirmed Seyed-Emami’s death February 11, alleging “He killed himself after his own and others’ confessions.”
Firouzabadi says there is a history of environmental espionage in Iran.
“Several years ago, some individuals travelled to Iran to collect aid for Palestine. When they reached Tehran, we were suspicious of the route they chose. We let them go, but kept what they were carrying. In their possessions were a variety of reptile desert species like lizards and salamanders,” he said.
Referring to the “studies” that followed this event, Firouzabadi claimed, “We found out that the lizard-like animal skins attract nuclear waves. They were nuclear spies who wanted to find out where we had uranium mines and where we were involved in atomic activities,” he said, adding, “Many of the foreigners and Iranians who are involved in espionage inside the Islamic Republic are not even aware of the fact that they are actually spying.”
Accusations of spies using animals are not unprecedented in Iran.
In October 2008 the reformist daily E’temad Melli cited unnamed resources as saying security forces in the city of Natanz had arrested two suspected ‘spy pigeons’ not far from the Islamic Republic’s controversial uranium enrichment facility in central Iran.
“Some metal rings and invisible strings were attached to the bird. Early this month, a black pigeon was caught bearing a blue-coated metal ring with invisible strings,” the unnamed, but “informed source” told the daily.
In July 2007 the ultra-conservative daily Resalat reported that 14 “trained squirrels” equipped with espionage systems of foreign intelligence services had been captured by Iranian intelligence forces along the border.
However, the squirrels’ operation was aborted, and according to an unnamed source quoted in the daily, “Intelligence officials caught these squirrels before they could carry out their mission.”