Last Updated: Sun Sep 23, 2012 14:13 pm (KSA) 11:13 am (GMT)

Spy device disguised as rock blown up near Iran nuclear site

A photograph of the suspected uranium-enrichment facility near Iran's holy city of Qom. (Reuters)
A photograph of the suspected uranium-enrichment facility near Iran's holy city of Qom. (Reuters)

A spy device camouflaged as a rock exploded when it came into contact with Iranian troops near an underground nuclear enrichment plant, The Sunday Times reported this week.

Last month, Revolutionary Guards at the Fordo nuclear facility, near the northern city of Qom, came across the rock and attempted to move it, according to sources who spoke to the newspaper.

The guards, who had been on patrol to check terminals connecting data and telephone links to the site, reportedly witnessed the disguised spy device exploding when they came into contact with it.

Experts who surveyed the scene of the explosion, according to the newspaper, analyzed remnants of the device and found it had been able to intercept data from computers at the nuclear plant, where uranium is enriched.

News of the explosion was reportedly first kept secret by the Iranians. But last week, Fereydoun Abbasi the Iranian vice-president and the head of the nuclear energy agency, revealed that the power lines between Qom and the Fordo facility were blown-up in August.

The finding has sparked speculation over whether the spy device could have been a significant source of intelligence for Western countries, which has now been lost.

Israel believes Iran's nuclear program to be aimed at developing an atomic weapons capability that would menace its own existence, and its current status as the Middle East's sole, if undeclared, nuclear weapons power.

Iran insists its program is exclusively for peaceful, civilian ends, but it is locked in a deepening standoff with the U.N. nuclear watchdog and the U.N. Security Council over the issue.

The existence of the site was unknown until it was uncovered three years ago in 2009, according to The Sunday Times, which added that the nuclear plant has been under surveillance by American, British and Israeli intelligence agencies.

It is believed that there are up to 3,000 centrifuges which are pieces of equipment used to separate substances of different densities and rotates at high speed that are hidden under 260ft of rock.

There are reports that claim the explosion was planned to cut the power supply to the plant and damage the centrifuges, however, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who visited the site the day after the explosion occurred did not state that there was any damage or disruption to the plant in their reports.

The enrichment of uranium in Iran has become a matter of considerable diplomatic importance. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated last week, that Iran would have what it needed for a nuclear weapon by the middle of next year, and has threatened a unilateral attack.

However, Britain and the United States believe that Iran is progressing at a slower pace.

British officials confessed earlier in the year that a fake rock had been discovered in Moscow in 2006, the camouflaged rock was reportedly revealed to hold monitoring and transmission equipment used for espionage.

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