Iran's state TV has broadcast footage allegedly extracted from the advanced CIA spy drone captured in 2011, the latest in a flurry of moves from Iranian authorities meant to underline the country's purported military and technological advances.
Iran has long claimed it managed to reverse-engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel, seized in December 2011 after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern border with Afghanistan, and that it's capable of launching its own production line for the unmanned aircraft.
After initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed the Sentinel had been monitoring Iran's military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.
The video aired late Wednesday on Iranian TV shows an aerial view of an airport and a city, said to be a U.S. drone base and Kandahar, Afghanistan. The TV also showed images purported to be the Sentinel landing at a base in eastern Iran but it was unclear if that footage meant to depict the moment of the drone's seizure.
In addition, the TV showed images of an Iranian helicopter transporting the drone, as well as its disassembled parts being carried on a trailer.
In another part of the video, the chief of the Revolutionary Guard's airspace division, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said that only after capturing the drone, Iran realized it "belongs to the CIA."
"We were able to definitively access the data of the drone, once we brought it down," said Hajizadeh.
He described the Sentinel's capture as a huge scoop for Iran, saying that at the time, Tehran did not rule out a possible punitive U.S. air strike over the drone.
Attempts to embarrass U.S.
Iranian officials have accused the U.S. of stepping up its espionage activities against Iran as part of intensified western efforts to force Tehran to abandon its uranium enrichment program, a key aspect of its disputed nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran may be trying to develop atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
In an attempt to embarrass Washington, Iran has claimed to have captured several American drones, most recently in December, when Tehran said it seized a Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone — a less sophisticated aircraft — after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf.
U.S. officials said there was no evidence that the latest claims were true.
Also Thursday, the semi-official Fars news agency published photos reportedly depicting a domestic production line of ScanEagle drones. The photos show several drones in a workshop.
Iran has said before that it's making ScanEagle copies and putting them into service, but has not offered proof for those claims.
Fars also quoted deputy defense minister, Mohammad Eslami, as saying that Iran has also established a "production line for the drones in foreign countries." He did not elaborate, and it was not clear if he was referring to Syria or Lebanon's Hezbollah group, Iran's top regional allies.
The latest Sentinel footage came as the U.S. tightened sanctions to pressure the Iranian government to limit its nuclear program and restrictions on institutions that Washington says are stifling political dissent and censoring speech.
Among the expanded measures announced Monday by the Treasury Department is a move to deny Iran access to revenue garnered from its oil exports. Under the latest sanctions, Iran would only be able to use revenue from its oil sales in a country that purchased its crude — now mostly big Asian economies such as China and India — which would significantly limit its access to the money.