Iran says nuclear scientists were targeted

TEHRAN — Iran has disrupted plots by foreign spies to recruit its nuclear specialists and stopped sabotage attempts through faulty foreign equipment supplied for its facilities, the deputy head of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear department said.

The comments by Asghar Zarean, who is in charge of security for Iran’s nuclear program, came during a visit by an Associated Press team to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization in Tehran organized by state officials. It comes as Iran continues negotiations with world powers over its contested nuclear program and after authorities said they shot down a purported Israeli drone near one of its atomic facilities.

‘‘We aim to raise awareness about the enemy, who is more hostile to us every day,’’ Zarean said Monday, without naming the countries that authorities believe are behind the efforts.


Iran’s nuclear program has been the target of sabotage. In 2010, the so-called Stuxnet virus disrupted operation of thousands of centrifuges, key components in nuclear fuel production, at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

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Iran says it and other computer virus attacks are part of a concerted effort by Israel, the United States, and their allies to undermine its nuclear program through covert operations. Israel has never commented on the allegations but is widely believed to have been involved in the Stuxnet attack.

In the interview, Zarean said foreign intelligence agencies targeted the specialists when they traveled abroad and that the specialists informed their superiors when they returned home. He did not say where the alleged contact occurred.

Zarean also showed journalists parts and equipment, including modems and pumps, which he said had been deliberately tampered with to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. He described the items as a small sample of Western sabotage.

The United States and its allies fear Iran’s nuclear program could allow it to build atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, like generating electricity and medical research.