Tehran: Iran’s foreign ministry has strongly protested against a Saudi accusation that it was directly linked to an alleged spy cell busted last week in the kingdom, Iranian media reported on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said on Tuesday that the cell it dismantled last week had “direct links” to Iran’s intelligence services.

The Saudi charge d’affaires was summoned after “the publication of the baseless claim by Saudi Arabia,” the Mehr news agency reported, citing a foreign ministry statement.

In the meeting with the unnamed Saudi diplomat, the Iranian authorities “completely rejected the accusations” and also expressed “their strong protest,” it added.

On March 19, the interior ministry in Riyadh said authorities had arrested 16 Saudis, an Iranian and a Lebanese citizen in four regions including Eastern Province, where the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s Shiite minority is concentrated.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab monarchies have strained ties with Shiite Iran over what they call Tehran’s interference in their internal affairs and its continuing support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad