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Iran using fake social media accounts to 'abduct' Israelis abroad, spy agencies say

Israeli intelligence expresses 'genuine concern' that Iranian-linked online scheme could lead to attempts to harm or abduct Israelis
Israelis who have international commercial contacts and travel abroad are alleged targets of the scheme (AFP/File photo)

Two Israeli intelligence agencies have accused Iranian elements of using fake social media accounts to lure Israeli citizens abroad in order "to harm or abduct them".

Israel's domestic security agency, best known as the Shin Bet, said in a statement on Monday that it uncovered the scheme while working with Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service. 

The agencies accused Iran-affiliated actors of using fictitious profiles on social networks to make contact with Israelis who have international commercial contacts and travel abroad.

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"These profiles made contacts with Israeli civilians, coordinated meetings with them abroad and attempted to draw them into romantic or commercial meetings," the Shin Bet said in the statement. 

The agency said the activities were being carried out "in various countries with links to Israel and with Israelis", including Arab and Gulf countries, Turkey, and countries in the Caucasus, Europe and Africa.

"There is genuine concern that such activity by Iranian operatives could lead to attempts to harm or abduct Israelis in those countries in which Iranians are active," the Shin Bet continued.

An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP that there was "at least one case of a citizen who left for a foreign country in order to conduct a meeting" after being in touch with a suspicious social media account.

"The person was warned by [Israeli] intelligence and returned [home]," the official said.

Iranian officials have not made an official comment regarding the accusation. 

'Nuclear terrorism'

The Israeli claim came hours after Iran accused Israel of orchestrating an attack on a key nuclear site and vowed "revenge". 

The Sunday attack on Natanz nuclear facility, which remains nonoperational, sent tensions skyrocketing a week after Iran finally began negotiations with the United States over returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. Israel has been adamantly opposed to making any international agreements with Iran. 

Following the attack, Israel's Kan public radio cited intelligence sources, whose nationality it did not disclose, as saying that the Mossad spy agency had carried out a cyber operation at the site.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the country's nuclear chief, described it as an act of "nuclear terrorism".

There was no official Israeli comment on the incident. But on Sunday, Israeli officials appeared to make several references to Iran.

The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, said the Israeli military's "operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy", according to the Associated Press. "They are watching us, seeing [our] abilities and weighing their steps with caution."

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