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SYRIA, LEBANON: Nests of spies uncovered in the Middle East

May 12, 2009 |  8:36 am

Lebanon-spies02

Alleged spy Roxana Saberi has been released from an Iranian prison, but intrigue continues to plague the region with Syria confirming the arrest of two British citizens on terrorism charges and Lebanon reeling from the discovery of an Israeli spy network.

The 36-year old mother of four, Maryam Kallis, and 28-year-old Yasser Ahmed were arrested eight weeks ago by Syrian plainclothes intelligence officers, according to their families. On Sunday, the Syrian embassy in London confirmed the arrests (in Arabic), accusing the two Britons of working with a terrorist group connected to Al Qaeda.

“The Syrian Authorities arrested Mrs. Kallis and Mr. Ahmed in Damascus on the 17 March 2009, and the interrogations indicated that both Ms. Kallis and Mr. Ahmed are working for a terrorist network related to the Al Qaeda organization and other members of the network were also arrested by the Syrian Authorities,” read a statement released by the embassy.

“Mrs. Kallis is involved in receiving funds from her husband Mr. Massoud Ahmad (who resides in the UK) and in conveying the funds to the above mentioned network,” it continued.

Kallis and Ahmed had both been living with their families in Syria for several years and were enrolled at Abu Nour, a well-known Islamic institute in Damascus.

Lebanon-spies01 The families of the detained and Labor Party member Lord Nazir Ahmed, who has taken up their case, have accused British intelligence agencies of involvement. The British government has neither confirmed nor denied these charges, while Syrian embassy spokesman Jihad Makdissi denied them outright.

"I was told that the Syrians were in contact with the British authorities,” Lord Ahmed told the Guardian on Sunday. “When I asked if that meant the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – which would be normal – they said no, but would not identify who.”

The families of the detained have taken the Foreign Office’s silence as an admission of British collusion in the arrests.

"The Foreign Office could not reassure me that the British secret services were not involved,” said Saima Zahur, the arrested man's sister. “I have told them that as a family we feel utterly betrayed.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon has its own security breaches to contend with as the investigation into an alleged Israeli spy network continues.

The intelligence branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces decided to show off the evidence to an eager press Monday, displaying a number of sophisticated pieces of spy equipment (in Arabic) that had been confiscated from the suspects.

The items included computers, recording devices, radios, a screen for reading Hebrew, a high-tech tracking device hidden inside the lid of a water cooler and a wooden chest with a secret apparatus for transmitting and receiving messages from the Israelis.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photos: Above, reporters take pictures of electronic instruments displayed by Lebanese security who claimed they were found with arrested Lebanese nationals accused of spying for Israel since January, at the Lebanese security services headquarters in Beirut. (Credit: Wael Hamzeh/EPA)


At right, a masked Lebanese secret service officer shows the media a can of motor oil used to camouflage electronic devices found with arrested Lebanese nationals accused of spying for Israel. (Joseph Barraka/AFP/Getty Images)
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