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Iran has captured 17 people it claims were spies working for the CIA and some have been sentenced to death, Iranian media has reported.

State television quoted the Iranian intelligence ministry as saying it had broken up a “CIA spying ring” and captured 17 suspects.  A ministry official said some of those arrested had been sentenced to death, the country’s semi-official Fars news agency reported. IRAN has, executed a former Ministry of Defence employee after intelligence officials accused him of spying for the CIA.

 

Aerospace contractor Jalal Hajizavar was convicted by a military court after an investigation discovered documents and spying equipment at his home, reported state broadcaster IRIB.



Mr Hajizavar had left his post at the aerospace division of the defence ministry around nine years ago. Iran's state TV claimed he admitted in court that he was paid to spy for the CIA. He was hanged last week at the infamous Rajai Shahr prison west of Tehran, according to the IRIB report.

Haizavar's wife was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in the alleged espionage. It came just days after the Islamic Republic shot down an American spy drone in the Gulf. A missile-launching battleship has been put on 72-hour standby to attack Iran, while Donald Trump called off an air strike last night.

American military assets in the region, including the missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, have been put on alert after the Islamic Republic shot down a spy drone, a Pentagon official reportedly said. Planes were ready to takeoff and ships were in position to launch a ferocious bombardment when the order was given to stand down last night. Trump said: "Nothing is greenlighted until the very end, because things change. "We had something ready to go, subject to my approval."



On Friday morning he tweeted: "We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. "10 minutes before the strike I stopped it. Not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. "I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!"

It comes as Foreign Office officials prepare for "senior level" talks with the Iranian government over the escalating crisis. Minister Andrew Murrison is expected to travel to the Middle East today for talks with his counterparts in Tehran. He will urge officials to "de-escalate" tensions with the US.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The UK minister will call for “urgent de-escalation” & raise UK and international concerns about Iran’s conduct in the region plus its threat to stop complying with the 2015 nuclear deal." Speaking with Reuters, an Iranian official said that Tehran received a message from Trump overnight warning them of the imminent attack. A Pentagon source told Global News that US military assets in the Middle East, including the missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, have been put on a 72-hour standby.’

The source said that US troops were woken up at around 2am local time “within the hour” of the proposed strike – but then nothing happened, according to the report. Among the targets which US military chiefs were targeting was the S-125 Neva/Pechora surface-to-air missile system, the Pentagon official said. Washington believes the Soviet-era weapon was used to down the drone on Thursday although Iran claims they used the domestically-made 3rd Khordad transporter erector launcher to destroy the aircraft.

The White House and the Pentagon declined to comment officially on the reports. Earlier, Trump declared that "Iran made a very big mistake" by shooting down the unmanned £102m US spy drone over the Strait of Hormuz. He also suggested that the downing of the aircraft was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation of tensions - which have led to rising fears of open military conflict.

Trump said at the White House: "I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. "I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it." But Iran portrayed the shooting as a deliberate defence of its territory - insisting the drone was flying over their airspace. However, the Islamic Republic has been accused of using a fake photo in an attempt to 'prove' the aircraft was over its territory. State-run IRNA news agency shared an image of a damaged drone falling to Earth to illustrate its report.

But it has subsequently emerged that the same image - albeit in a wider crop - was previously used on a report of another drone being shot down over Yemen two year's ago. Yet, Iran's foreign ministry says it has "undeniable evidence" that the spy plane "was in Iranian airspace". Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghji told the Swiss ambassador in Tehran that "some of its wreckage (the flying plane) has been found in Iran's territorial waters," reports Saudi outlet Al Arabiya.

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