Italian police have arrested five Italians and two suspected Iranian secret agents on suspicion of illegally trafficking arms and explosives to Iran through Eastern Europe in breach of an international embargo. Reports said two further alleged Iranian agents were on the run and were being sought by police.

Police in Milan said the operation had been conducted with the help of British, Swiss and Romanian authorities. They said in a statement that they had intercepted optical-precision equipment, scuba-diving jackets and oxygen tanks bound for Iran as well as tracer bullets, incendiary bombs and other "explosive materials".

The investigation, dubbed Operation Sniper, was led by Armando Spataro, the Milan prosecutor who also investigated the 2003 kidnapping and "extraordinary rendition " of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric suspected of abetting terrorism, by CIA agents in Milan. Last November, an Italian judge convicted 22 CIA agents and an American military official in absentia of the kidnapping. They are appealing.

Police said Operation Sniper had begun in June 2009. One of the Italians arrested was a lawyer from Turin who also ran an "import export business", Spataro told a news conference. He said the other arrested Italians were from Monza, Brescia and Cadeo in the province of Piacenza, and Switzerland.

The arrests come as the Western powers push for tougher United Nations sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme following a report by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month that Iran had enriched uranium to 19.8 percent, 0.2 percentage points below the threshold needed to start the chain reaction seen in a nuclear bomb.

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