Iran, which has blamed “foreign enemies” for protests that swept the country after the death of a woman in morality police custody, said on Friday it had arrested nine European nationals for their role in the unrest.
The detention of citizens of Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries is likely to ratchet up tensions between Iran and Western countries over the death of Mahsa Amini.
The escalation comes as more casualties were reported. Nineteen people were killed after security forces fired on armed protesters attacking a police station, said an official.
Tehran has responded to international condemnation of the case by lashing out at its critics, accusing the United States of exploiting the unrest to try to destabilise Iran.
The nine unidentified people were detained “during the riots or while plotting in the background,” the Intelligence Ministry said in a statement carried by Iranian media.
Amini, a 22-year-old from the Iranian Kurdish town of Saqez, was arrested this month in Tehran for “unsuitable attire” by the morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Her death has caused the first big show of opposition on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019. The demonstrations have quickly evolved into a popular revolt against the clerical establishment.
Demonstrations have spread from Amini’s hometown to all of Iran’s 31 provinces, with all layers of society, including ethnic and religious minorities, joining in.
Read more: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards colonel among 19 killed in Zahedan clashes
Fearing an ethnic uprising and in a show of power, Iran fired missiles and drones at targets in neighbouring northern Iraq’s Kurdish region this week after accusing Iranian Kurdish dissidents of being involved in the unrest.
Western human rights groups say that Iran, dominated by its Persian Shi’ite majority, discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities. Tehran denies this.