Iran warned on Tuesday that it will take strong action against five British sailors detained by the Iranian navy after their racing yacht was stopped last week in the Persian Gulf if it is proven they had "bad intentions."
The detention could heighten tensions between Iran and major world powers, including Britain, that are demanding a halt to Tehran's controversial nuclear program. It could also flare up the longtime rivalry between Iran and Bahrain, since the yacht was the pride of a high-profile racing program sponsored by the Arab Gulf nation's king.
The British government said Monday that Iran is holding the five British crewmembers after their yacht was stopped last Wednesday after straying inadvertently into Iranian waters while en route to Dubai to join the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain has been in touch about the case with Iranian counterparts and hoped the matter would be resolved soon.
"There's certainly no confrontation or argument," Miliband said. "As far as we are aware, these people are being well treated, which is right and what we would expect from a country like Iran."
But the head of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's said Iran will prosecute the Britons if they intended to "violate the national security" of Iran.
Iran has taken a tough line with previous cases of Westerners entering its borders. It detained three young Americans who strayed across the border from northern Iraq in July. Despite U.S. insistence that they were innocent hikers who accidentally entered Iran, Tehran has accused them of espionage — a sign that they could be put on trial.
Miliband insisted that the five Britons were civilians who "were going about their sport."
Sail Bahrain's Web site identified the yacht as the "Kingdom of Bahrain" and said it had been due to join the 360-mile (580-kilometer) Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, which was to begin Nov. 26. The event was to be the boat's first offshore race, the Web site said, adding that the vessel had been fitted with a satellite tracker.
The Associated Press has contributed to the report.
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