The Danish and Dutch governments have summoned their Saudi ambassadors in order to protest the presence of four Iranian-Arabs who were arrested and charged for allegedly spying for Saudi Arabia.
The three members of the Al-Ahvaziya group – backed by Saudi Arabia against the Iranian government – were arrested by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service yesterday over suspicions of spying on behalf of the kingdom, along with one other member arrested in the Netherlands.
#Denmark, following the previous arrest of three members of an Iranian Arab opposition group, in Denmark, on charges of spying for #SaudiArabia, has summoned Saudi Arabia's Ambassador in Copenhagen.#Iran
— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) February 4, 2020
Danish Security Service (PET) Director Finn Borch Andersen announced that the three members of the group, formally known as the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), were officially charged with participating in the Saudi intelligence service’s espionage activities between 2012 and 2018.
The detainees, who were under surveillance for several months prior to their arrests, were reportedly collecting information on individuals within Denmark and other surrounding countries in order to send it to Saudi intelligence.
They were also alleged to have supported a terrorist attack in Iran in September 2018, which was responsible for the deaths of 25 people. The Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod released a tweet on the case, calling it “deeply serious and completely unacceptable”, adding that he had summoned the Saudi ambassador as well as ordering the Danish ambassador in the Saudi capital Riyadh to express the country’s grievances to Saudi authorities.
Jeg har i dag indkaldt Saudi-Arabiens ambassadør til samtale i Udenrigsministeriet.
Her er det blevet gjort umisforståeligt klart, at spionageaktiviteter på dansk jord er fuldstændigt uacceptabelt.
Samme budskaber overbringes i Riyadh af danske udenrigstjeneste #dkpol
— Jeppe Kofod (@JeppeKofod) February 3, 2020
The Al-Ahwaziya group was established in 1980, being one of the many groups born out of the brief political instability following the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. They consist of a variety of members belonging to differing ideological differences while having the common nationalist aim of separating the south-western region of Khuzestan – where the city of Ahwaz is located – from the rest of Iran through armed struggle.
Saudi Arabia’s reported backing of and involvement in the group and its activities through the gathering of intelligence in European countries comes at a time when the kingdom is being scrutinised for its global spying techniques.
Over the past month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has been accused of hacking into the phone of the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, primarily through the use of spyware sent in a WhatsApp message, in order to attain information to use as leverage on the well-known figure. Following the revelation, which has not been entirely confirmed amid a variety of reports, there have been concerns that other global figures and politicians could have also been compromised.
Last year it was revealed that Saudi Arabia has been a primary customer of Israeli spyware and used it to spy and gather information on citizens, critics and dissidents, the widest-known case of which was the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 where the application was used to gather information prior to the murder.