Egypt releases Iranian diplomat accused of spying

May 29, 2011 - 11:57 AM

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian security released an Iranian diplomat Sunday after detaining him overnight and questioning him on suspicions of illegally gathering intelligence and trying to set up spy rings in Egypt and Gulf countries, Egypt's state news agency said.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said it was studying the case.

The diplomat's arrest appeared to run contrary to claims by Egypt's interim foreign minister that the country would seek to improve ties with Iran following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February. Relations have been frosty for decades, since Egypt gave Iran's deposed shah exile after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Egyptian security men arrested Qassem al-Husseini on Saturday in his Cairo home, where they found documents, a computer and spying devices banned in Egypt, said a security official, who added that al-Husseini will be deported in the next 48 hours.

The official said al-Husseini was an operative for Iranian intelligence while working under the title of third secretary at Iran's diplomatic mission in Cairo. The diplomat tried to recruit agents for Iran and gathered information, "taking advantage of the lack of security" to intensify his activities after the anti-Mubarak uprising erupted on Jan 25, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share details with reporters.

Before al-Husseini's release, state security attorney Taher al-Khouli accused him of "spying for a foreign country to harm the interests of Egypt" based on an initial investigation, Egypt's official MENA news agency said.

The report said he had been caught violating diplomatic protocols by "forming spy rings to collect political, economic and military information about Egypt and Gulf countries in exchange for money." Al-Husseini was released after Egypt's Foreign Ministry confirmed he was an Iranian diplomat.

Before al-Husseini's release, Iran's diplomatic mission in Egypt denied he had been detained. Iran's official news agency, IRNA, quoted the Iranian Foreign Ministry as saying the detention was under study.

Egypt and Iran have not had full diplomatic relations since 1979, but they maintain lower-level diplomatic missions.