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Britain and Austria deny detaining citizens in Iran, while Poland says a scientist has been detained

LONDON – Poland confirmed on Thursday that a Polish national has been detained in Iran after Iranian media reports claimed a number of foreign nationals had been detained on suspicion of espionage.

Poland’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website that an unnamed “eminent scientist” was detained by Iranian authorities last September. Iranian media reports identified one of those allegedly arrested as Maciej Walczak, head of the Department of Microbiology at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland.

Citing a statement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Iranian reports also claimed that former British Deputy Ambassador to Iran Giles Whitaker and the wife of an Austrian diplomat were detained on similar charges.

But Britain and Austria have denied that any of their citizens have been arrested recently. A UK Foreign Office spokesman called reports of Whitaker’s detention “completely false”.

Iran says former British diplomat among several detained foreigners

Whitaker was harassed by Iranian authorities last year while visiting an Iranian tourist destination with his family, but he was not arrested, said a British diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues.

Whitaker completed his service in Iran as planned in December and has taken up a new position in the UK, the official said. A spokeswoman for the Austrian foreign ministry told a French news agency that neither employees of the Austrian embassy nor relatives in Tehran had been arrested.

The video, broadcast by Iranian state television on Wednesday, showed a montage of images, including what appeared to be drone footage of foreigners allegedly taking soil samples from prohibited locations, and a photo showing a foreigner apparently blindfolded in the back seat of a car. It also included a photo of Whitaker and his family.

However, the reports did not specify when the footage was taken or whether the foreigners were traveling together or separately when the alleged arrests took place. The British official denied that Whitaker had taken soil samples while on holiday with his family.

The reports come as tensions rise between the West and Iran as hopes of a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal dwindle, which lapsed after President Donald Trump pulled America out of the deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program in 2018. An attempt to resume stalled talks hosts Qatar last month collapsed after just a day.

On Thursday, the British government announced that the Royal Navy warship HMS Montrose had intercepted and seized two shipments of Iranian weapons in waters south of Iran earlier this year, apparently destined for the Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen.

The seizures, which took place in late January and February, occurred as the Royal Marines boarded speedboats and searched speedboats operated by smugglers. According to the British Ministry of Defense, they seized guided missiles and engines for land-attack cruise missiles.

It is the first time a British warship has intercepted ships with such sophisticated weaponry coming from Iran, the statement added.