An Iranian military official said Saturday afternoon that the 15 detained British sailors "confessed" to illegally entering Iranian waters. The sailors, taken at gunpoint Friday by Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Al Quds soldiers were captured intentionally and are to be used as bargaining chips for the release of five Iranians who were arrested at the Iranian consul in Irbil, Iraq by US troops, an Iranian official told the daily paper Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday. In addition, a senior Iranian military official said Saturday that the decision to capture the soldiers was made during a March 18 emergency meeting of the High Council for Security following a report by the Al-Quds contingent commander, Kassem Suleimani, to the Iranian chief of the armed forces, Maj.Gen. Hassan Firouz Abadi. In the report, according to Asharq al-Awsat, Suleimani warned Abadi that Al Quds and Revolutionary Guards' operations had become transparent to US and British intelligence following the arrest of a senior Al Quds officer and four of his deputies in Irbil. According to the official, Iran was worried that its detained people would leak sensitive intelligence information.
Analysis: Who knows who the waters belong to?
Teheran embassies prepare escape plans
Iran's semi-official news agency, Fars, reported that the 15 Britons have been transferred to the capital Teheran "to explain their aggressive action." There was no immediate official confirmation of the move.
The agency said the 15 included "some women." In Britain, officials told the Press Association news agency that at least one woman was among the group.
Navigational equipment on the seized British boats "show that they (sailors) were aware that they were operating in Iranian waters and Iranian border gurads fulfilled their responsibility," Fars quoted an unidentified official as saying.
Meanwhile, officials from Western countries expressed concern Saturday that Iran would engage in similar acts in the future in order to discourage the United Nation's Security Council from imposing further sanctions, reported Army Radio.
Iran had maintained Friday that the British sailors had entered Iranian territorial waters illegally; the United States Naval Forces Central Command (US Fifth Fleet) issued the following statement regarding the incident:
"At approximately 10:30 a.m. Iraqi time March 23, 15 British naval personnel, engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1723 and the government of Iraq, were seized by Iranian naval vessels.
The boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they andtheir two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.
The British government is pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and on the instructions of the British Foreign Secretary, the Iranian ambassador was summoned to the British Foreign Office. The British Government is demanding the immediate, unconditional and safe return of their people and equipment.
Royal Navy forces operate as part of Combined Task Force 158. CTF 158's mission is to maintain security and stability in Iraqi territorial waters and to protect the Iraqi oil terminals, under the UN mandate set out in the Security Council Resolutions on Iraq.
CTF 158 is currently commanded by Royal Navy Commodore Nick Lambert and operates as one of three coalition task forces in the Combined Maritime Forces under the leadership of Commander, US Naval Forces Central Command/US Fifth Fleet, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff," the statement concluded.
Iranian state television said, however, that this was "not the first time that British military personnel during the occupation of Iraq have entered illegally into Iran's territorial waters," the state TV quoted a foreign ministry official as saying. He was not identified by name.
Earlier, the British government summoned the Iranian ambassador, Rasoul Movahedian, to the Foreign Office for a meeting, which a department spokesman described as "brisk but cordial."
During the meeting, Sir Peter Ricketts, the senior civil servant in the department, demanded "the safe return of our personnel and equipment," the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity under department rules.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett demanded Teheran fully explain the detention, saying in a statement after Movahedian's summons that he "was left in no doubt that we want them back."
Iran later claimed that the British soldiers and marines have been "detained by Iran's border authorities for further investigation ... of the blatant aggression into Iranian territorial waters," the official also said.
Iran demanded an immediate explanation from London and "asked that this not happen again," the television said.
The foreign ministry conveyed Iran's "strong protest" to the diplomat, who was said to be the British charge d'affaires in the absence of a London ambassador to Teheran. The diplomat was also asked to "provide answer as soon as possible" from London.