TEHRAN (AFP) – A US woman whom Tehran says is an American spy caught filming on its northern borders has confessed to espionage, a senior Iranian police official said on state television on Sunday.
“During preliminary questioning she confessed to this issue,” said deputy border police chief, Brigadier General Ahmad Garavand, when asked if the woman was involved in spying.
Garavand told Iranian media on Saturday that an “American woman spy” he identified as Hal Talayan was arrested in the town of Jolfa on the border with Azerbaijan’s autonomous region of Naxcivan, close to Armenia.
She “was arrested on January 5 while she was filming under cover as a tourist, and she was on a mission from the US spy agency,” Garavand said on Saturday.
He added that she had been “tasked by Americans to film the borders.” She “was filming the border markets, Jolfa (police) station and the frontier” with “advanced filming equipment.”
State-television reiterated Sunday that the “American woman entered Iran through Armenia,” but the Armenian government on Friday denied she had ever been to the former Soviet republic.
The Fars news agency gave her name as Hal Talayan, while Mehr and ISNA news agencies named her as Hal Fayalan, 34.
Later, Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam television cited a security source as saying a US woman had been refused entry at a border crossing with Armenia over a visa problem.
The US State Department also denied that the woman was in Iran.
“We have located the US citizen who appears to have been the subject of the reports and confirmed that the individual is safe,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told AFP. “She is not in Iran,” he said.
Talayan would be the fourth American to be arrested by Iran on spying charges along with hikers Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd.
Shourd was freed last year on humanitarian grounds and returned home, but Iranian officials say all three will go on trial on February 6.
After Shourd was freed on hefty bail in September, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested that the United States free eight jailed Iranians as a “humanitarian gesture” in exchange for the two remaining hikers.
But the State Department rejected any link at the time, saying there was “no equivalent” between the Iranians tried and found guilty in the United States and the hikers still awaiting trial in Iran.
The animosity between Iran and the United States has grown with Tehran under mounting international pressure led by Washington over its controversial nuclear programme which the West suspects of covering a weapons drive.
Iran denies the charge and is due to hold a second round of talks over its nuclear programme with world powers in Istanbul in late January.
Iran is also detaining two German journalists after they were arrested in October while interviewing the son of a woman condemned to death by stoning.
Tehran says the Germans entered the country on tourist visas and failed to obtain the necessary accreditation for journalists before “posing as reporters” when they contacted Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s family.