Iran accused Saudi Arabia yesterday of handing over a senior Iranian nuclear scientist to the US.
Shahram Amiri, thought to be in his early 30s, vanished in Mecca on May 31 while on pilgrimage. He worked at Iran's nuclear plant in Natanz, where uranium is enriched.
His disappearance has stoked tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional rivals who not only see themselves as leading powers in the Middle East but also the respective guardians of Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Mr Amiri, who has won a national award for services to Tehran's nuclear programme, was a physics graduate and also worked as a researcher at Malek-e Ashtar University of Technology, which is affiliated to the defence ministry. His wife is thought to be still in Iran.
Why Mr Amiri disappeared in Saudi Arabia is unclear but some western diplomats in Tehran suspect he might have defected. A former deputy defence minister, Alireza Asgari, defected in 2006 while in Turkey.
Iranian officials believe, however, that Mr Amiri was kidnapped as part of a US policy to halt Iran's nuclear programme.
Ramin Mehmanparast, a foreign ministry spokesman, told the semi-official Mehr news agency that Mr Amiri "has been handed over to Washington by Riyadh". He added that Mr Amiri was "now one of the 11 Iranians in US prisons".
Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry said it had no knowledge of the allegation and declined to comment.
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