Two Iranian nuclear scientists disappeared over the past weeks and allegedly defected to the West, the London-based pan-Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.
According to the report, the first defector is Sharam Amiri, a scientist in Iran's nuclear program who was likely tied to the recently discovered secret uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom.
Amiri disappeared in Saudi Arabia in July while he was on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Defection speculations have been gaining popularity in light of an announcement made by Iran's foreign ministry that it had asked Saudi officials to help locate Amiri. This announcement is unusual because many Iranians go missing during the annual hajj pilgrimage, and in those cases, not only is there no foreign ministry announcement, usually there is no effort made to locate them, despite their families' pleas.
The foreign ministry announcement indicates that Amiri may have a particularly sensitive position in the Iranian nuclear program.
The report regarding the second scientist is also strange. Asharq al-Awsat uses only his surname - Ardebili. He was allegedly arrested in Georgia a few weeks ago. Reports say that Ardebili worked in the Iranian nuclear program as well, but the Iranian foreign ministry fervently denies these claims, and maintains that Ardebili was a businessman who was extradited to the U.S. following his arrest.
If the report is correct and two scientists from Iran's nuclear program indeed defected, it would be a harsh blow to Iran and its nuclear plans on the one hand, and a triumph on the part of Western intelligence on the other.
In 2007, the former Iranian deputy defense minister and senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Ali Reza Asgari defected to the West. Several reports linked both the American CIA and the Israeli Mossad to the operation.
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