Iran on Monday said that it has detained 17 people and sentenced some of them to death after dismantling a network of the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spies, a claim rejected by President Donald Trump as "totally false".
Iranian Intelligence Ministry's Director-General for Counter-Intelligence said that the 17 "professional spies" were working on behalf of the CIA throughout the last year, Fars news agency reported.
"The spies were employed in sensitive and vital private sector centres in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber areas where they collected classified information," the official said in a statement cited by the Iranian media.
Refuting the claim, Trump tweeted: "The report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot down drone) put out by a religious regime that is badly failing and has no idea what to do. Their economy is dead, and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!
The Iranian official claimed the CIA had recruited them by mainly contacting them over the Internet. Other tactics included issuing or renewing US visas, hiring Iranian specialists, providing necessary equipment and access to certain participants in scientific events abroad, sending emails and messaging through social media, the report said.
The development comes amid a standoff between Tehran and Washington, following Trump's decision to scrap the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposition of sanctions on Iran. Also, there has been a spate of maritime episodes, including Iran's seizure of the UK-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz last week.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps accused the vessel of "violating international regulations".
Iran's move in the strait came just hours after authorities in Gibraltar agreed to extend the detention of Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 in its custody for 30 days. That ship was detained by the British on July 4, accused of attempting to transport oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.