Yemen has arrested members of a spy ring that was led by a former commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the state SABA news agency said on Wednesday, as the country’s president told Tehran to butt out of its internal affairs.
In a series of SMS messages, SABA said the spy cell had operated in Yemen as well as in the Horn of Africa and that it had kept an operations center in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. An Interior Ministry official said all those detained were Yemenis.
In an apparent reference to the incident, President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi called on Iran to stay out of Yemen’s affairs.
“We hope that our brothers in Iran won’t interfere in Yemen’s affairs and that they take into consideration the sensitive situation in Yemen,” Hadi said. “Leave Yemen alone, enough is enough.”
Battling a secessionist movement and a tribal-based rebellion, Hadi, who succeeded longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh in February, is trying to direct a U.S.-backed offensive against Islamist fighters, while seeking to unify a divided army.
Bordering Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil producer, the United States views Yemen as a frontline in its “counter-terrorism” campaign and has previously accused Iran of meddling in southern and northern Yemen.
The U.S. ambassador to Sana’a, Gerald Feierstein, said earlier this year that Shi’ite Iran was working with Shiite Muslim rebels in northern Yemen and secessionists in the south to gain influence at the expense of Yemen’s Gulf neighbors.
The most powerful of those is Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leader of the Sunni world, and is Iran’s rival for regional supremacy. It crafted the power transfer deal that saw Saleh leave office after 33 years.
Hadi, his successor, took office in February promising to fight the country’s branch of al-Qaeda, whose local affiliates took control of parts of southern Yemen during an uprising against Saleh, and plotted abortive attacks on U.S. and Saudi targets from Yemen.
Although the military has driven al-Qaeda-linked militants from several towns in Abyan and Shabwa provinces, the group earlier this month carried out a suicide attack in Sana’a, killing 10 people.
The government’s hold on much of the south remains tenuous.
On Wednesday, armed men cut off roads leading to a government compound in Dalea province and prevented employees from entering the building, the defense ministry website reported.
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