Two state-controlled media outlets reported Thursday that Iranian authorities had arrested a 55-year-old American woman entering the country from Armenia for spying after finding a microphone in her teeth.
The accuracy of the accounts — by the IRAN newspaper and the semiofficial Fars news agency— could not immediately be verified, and the Iranian government withheld direct comment. (Late at night, a Reuters reported from Tehran that Iran’s state television al-Alam denied the detention reports.) The arrest, if confirmed, would be the fourth of an American accused of spying in Iran’s border areas in less than two years.
The reports identified the woman as Hall Talayan; the Fars report said she was detained a week ago by customs officials at the border town of Nordouz, 370 miles northwest of Tehran. The IRAN report said she was trying to enter Iran without a visa.
“The detained American spy told Iranian security officials that she would be killed if Iran extradites her to America,” the Fars report said.
But some people with knowledge of the episode, who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak for attribution, said there was another, conflicting account that the woman had presented herself as an asylum-seeker. In that version, the woman told the customs officials of the spy tool in her teeth and said that she would be killed if she returned to Armenia.
The Iranian authorities are still holding two United States citizens, Shane M Bauer and Joshua F Fattal, both 28, who were arrested in July 2009 on what was described as a hike in Iraqi Kurdistan, near the Iranian border.
Their companion, Sarah E Shourd, 32, was freed on $500,000 bail in September in what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described as a “huge humanitarian gesture.”
Her fiance, Shane Bauer, and friend Joshua Fattal remain in prison and could go on trial next month.
The US has dismissed the spying charges. It says the three are innocent hikers and has repeatedly called for their release. The Americans’ families have said if they crossed the border at all, it was inadvertent.
In late December, Iran allowed relatives to visit two German journalists detained in October as they presumably sought to report the widely publicised case of an Iranian woman who could be stoned to death for adultery.
There was no immediate comment from Armenian authorities about the latest reports, and The Associated Press said the American Embassy in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, was closed for