Source AP ©

Iranians arrested in connection to detained Americans

Some Iranians allegedly connected to two Iranian-Americans detained on charges of conspiring against the government were arrested by Iranian authorities, the intelligence minister said Wednesday.

The minister, Gholam Hossein Ejehei, did not say how many people were arrested or give details on their connection to Americans Hala Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh.

"Internal elements related to these people have been arrested," state radio quoted Ejehei as saying. "We are hopeful their names and reasons of detention will be announced."

Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh have been accused of endangering Iran's national security, and the Intelligence Ministry has alleged they were seeking to set up networks of Iranians to foment a "velvet revolution" against Iran's Islamic government. Families and employers of the two have denied the charges.

Esfandiari, 67, the director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has been held largely incommunicado since May.

Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant with the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute, has been held since May.

Two other Iranian-Americans face similar charges: Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, and Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of the University of California, Irvine, Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. Shakeri is in prison, while Azima is free but barred from leaving Iran.

Last week, Iranian state television aired footage of Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh in a program aimed at detailing the allegations against them. Their families dismissed the footage as propoganda and said the statements they made in it were coerced.

The U.S. State Department said it was "appalled" by the airing of the footage, which even raised some criticism from moderates in Iran.

In the footage, the two are seen describing their work and their goals of promoting democracy and civil society. Esfandiari talks about organizing lectures for Iranians in the United States, while Tajbakhsh describes funding university libraries in Iran.

Their detention has become a new point of contention in the stormy U.S.-Iranian relationship. The United States accuses Iran of arming Shiite militants in Iraq, fueling unrest in Lebanon and seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies those claims, and blames the United States for Iraq's instability.

The government of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said the detained Iranian-Americans are part of a wider plot to overthrow the Iran's Islamic leadership.

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