Iran con­firms ar­rest of woman, ac­cuses her of spying for U.S.

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY THOMAS ERD­BRINK erd­brinkt@wash­post.com

tehran — Ira­nian of­fi­cials con­firmed Satur­day that they have ar­rested an “Amer­i­can” woman whom they ac­cuse of spying on Ira­nian border posts for the United States. The re­marks added to con­fu­sion about the woman’s iden­tity and fate since Ira­nian state me­dia first an­nounced the ar­rest three days ago, then later de­nied it.

“ The fe­male Amer­i­can spy was ar­rested at the Jolfa border” with Azer­bai­jan, the deputy com­man­der of Iran’s state border po­lice, Gen. Ah­mad Ger­a­vand, said at a news con­fer­ence Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to the semiof­fi­cial Fars news agency and other lo­cal me­dia. He also said the woman had “con­fessed” but did not spec­ify what she had con­fessed to.

Fars iden­ti­fied the woman as Hal Falayan, 34, al­though on Thurs­day the agency had given her name as Hal Talayan and her age as 55. The rea­son for the dis­crep­an­cies re­mains un­clear.

Ger­a­vand told re­porters that Falayan was ar­rested Wed­nes­day.

“ This 34-year-old lady is called Hal Falayan and was film­ing the Jolfa border strip, border mar­ket and border gar­ri­son as a tourist when she was ar­rested by border pa­trols,” he said, ac­cord­ing to the semiof­fi­cial ISNA, Iran’s stu­dent news agency. “She was us­ing ad­vanced equip­ment.”

In an in­ter­view later with state ra­dio, Ger­a­vand said he was not cer­tain the woman was Amer­i­can. “She once said that she was an Amer­i­can na­tional. On an­other oc­ca­sion, she said that she was a Swiss na­tional. She has men­tioned var­i­ous coun­tries,” he said. He also said in the in­ter­view that the woman had an en­try visa for Iran.

Early re­ports had said the woman had been at­tempt­ing to en­ter Iran from Ar­me­nia, but Jolfa, the town where she was ar­rested, ac­tu­ally bor­ders the Nakhchivan Au­ton­o­mous Re­pub­lic, an ex­clave of Azer­bai­jan.

The au­thor­i­ties’ con­fir­ma­tion of an ar­rest fol­lowed sev­eral days of con­tra­dic­tory re­ports in Iran’s news me­dia.

On Wed­nes­day, the Tab­nak Web site, which is crit­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, re­ported that an Amer­i­can woman who was found to have spying equip­ment — al­legedly a cam­era or a mi­cro­phone — hid­den in her teeth was ar­rested while try­ing to en­ter Iran with­out a visa.

Also Wed­nes­day, the Mashregh news agency pub­lished on its Web site a photo of a woman ac­com­pa­nied by po­lice and hold­ing a scarf be­fore her face, say­ing it was an im­age of the “Amer­i­can spy.”

On Fri­day, the state-run Ara­bic-lan­guage news chan­nel alAlam, which is the main out­let for in­ter­na­tional mes­sages from the coun­try’s lead­ers, de­nied re­ports of an ar­rest. The same day, both the United States and Ar­me­nia de­nied that a per­son by the name of Talayan had gone missing. U.S. of­fi­cials stressed, how­ever, that they had searched their records for the name Talayan, as ini­tially re­ported. It is not clear whether an Amer­i­can by the name of Falayan has gone missing.

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