Seven people were arrested in Italy Wednesday on suspicion of trafficking arms to Iran, despite an international arms embargo against Tehran. Two of the men arrested are Iranians and are believed to be Iranian secret service agents. Police say two other Iranian suspects have likely fled the country. The five others arrested are Italians.
Operation Sniper was the result of a continuing investigation that was launched last June and involved Italian, British, Swiss and Romanian authorities.
Italian anti-terrorism prosecutor Armando Spataro says the investigation is based largely on wiretapped conversations and intercepted email message. He says the joint effort led to a successful result.
"It was very important to obtain the cooperation by many international police and many states," said Armando Spataro.
The arrests were carried out in several Italian cities. Police say the two arrested Iranian suspects are believed to be members of the Iranian secret services. One of those arrested was an Iranian journalist who has been working in Rome for more than 15 years and is accredited with the foreign press association.
Prosecutor Spataro says the smuggling ring sent weapons to Iran from Italy via third countries.
"The real plan was to transfer arms or parts of arms not directly to the final destination, namely Iran, but to many previous destinations in other countries before the last and final destination - Iran," he said.
Italian authorities say the arrests foiled plans to smuggle large quantities of high tech weapons - including tracer bullets, explosives for incendiary bombs and German-made rifle sights.
Iran is under an international arms embargo. Italy, despite being one of Iran's main European trading partners, favors a toughening trade sanctions against Tehran in response to its nuclear program. Recent diplomatic pressure over Iran's nuclear ambitions has led to a sharp reduction in Italian investments in Iran.