BAGHDAD (AFP) — US forces used a photograph to identify an Iranian they arrested in northern Iraq as a wanted bomb smuggler, a military spokesman said on Friday amid claims by Iran the detainee is a businessman.
"I can't provide the specific evidence we have for security reasons, but I can say that coalition forces identified the individual on the scene from a photo, so we are confident we have the guy we were looking for," Major Winfield Danielson told AFP.
American forces arrested the Iranian on suspicion of smuggling bombs on Thursday at a hotel in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, part of the Kurdish region.
Iran condemned what it called the "unwarranted" arrest of an official it said was in Iraq at the invitation of the Kurdish regional government, and lodged a strong protest with the authorities in Baghdad.
The foreign ministry in Tehran said the detained man, known only as Mr Farhadi, is head of "cross-border commercial transactions" in the office of the governor-general of Kermanshah province in western Iran.
The US military said on Thursday the detainee was believed to be an officer in the Quds Force, the covert operations arm of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, and that he was suspected of involvement in smuggling sophisticated explosives.
"This individual has been involved in transporting improvised explosive devices into Iraq, and reports indicate he was also involved in the infiltration of foreign terrorists into Iraq, contrary to recent diplomatic initiatives," Danielson said on Friday.
"Coalition forces acted to prevent lethal attacks against the Iraqi people, their elected government, and both Iraqi and coalition security forces," he added.
The government of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on Friday demanded the immediate release of the detained Iranian.
"We consider this action by the Americans to be illegal," said a statement from the office of regional president Massud Barzani.
An Iranian diplomat in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were in contact with Iraqi officials "to try to resolve the affair.
"We have no information on where he is being held and we have no contact with those who seized him," the diplomat added.
Kermanshah governor Abdul Majid Ghafori warned that relations with Iraqi Kurdistan would be severely hit if the man was not swiftly released.
It was the third such action by US troops against Iranians in Iraq this year.
Late last month, US forces briefly detained a group of Iranians, including two diplomats, at a Baghdad hotel in what the military later said was a "regrettable incident."
But the US military is still holding five Iranians it detained in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil in January on suspicion of involvement in arming Iraqi insurgents. Tehran insists that the men are diplomats.
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