Anti-government unrest was "a design" of Washington and Tel Aviv, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said
In his first public statement following weeks of violent protests across Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US and Israel of inciting the unrest, with the help of "traitorous Iranians abroad."
"I say explicitly that these riots and this insecurity were a design by the US and the occupying, fake Zionist regime and those who are paid by them" Khamenei told graduating officers at a police academy in Tehran on Monday. The Ayatollah also blamed "traitorous Iranians abroad," arguing that the US and its allies feel that Iran "is progressing towards full-scale power and they can't tolerate this."
Protests erupted in cities and towns across Iran more than two weeks ago, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. Amini had been arrested for wearing an "improper" hijab.
Amini's family insists that she was beaten to death while the Iranian authorities claim that she died of a heart attack. A video released by law enforcement purportedly shows Amini collapsing in the lobby of a police station while standing alone.
While politicians and journalists in the West have expressed support for the protests, Tehran has alleged more direct involvement. After the arrest of nine European citizens last week for allegedly "plotting" riots, Iran's Intelligence Ministry claimed that the demonstrations were largely fueled by foreign citizens and members of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organization, a group of Iranian dissidents currently operating out of Albania.
The ministry also alleged that the riots were organized with the "direct involvement of the American and British governments and their Saudi followers."
While these claims of government involvement cannot be verified, the CIA-backed National Endowment for Democracy has been financing the opposition in Iran for several years, and is currently promoting one of its grant recipients as a source of authoritative coverage on the protests.
The Iranian government claims that 41 people have died during the demonstrations, among them some law enforcement agents. Amnesty International puts the death toll at 52.