Iran's Revolutionary Guard has captured a US drone after it entered the country's airspace over the Gulf, according to a state media report.
The report on state televison quoted the Guard's navy chief, General Ali Fadavi, as saying that the Iranian forces caught the "intruding" pilotless aircraft on Tuesday. The drone had apparently taken off from a US aircraft carrier, the report said. Fadavi said the unmanned Boeing-made Scan Eagle was now in Iran's hands.
"The US drone, which was conducting a reconnaissance flight and gathering data over the Persian Gulf in the past few days, was captured by the Guard's navy air defence unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace," Fadavi said. "Such drones usually take off from large warships."
He did not provide any further details nor said when the incident happened. There was no immediate comment from the US Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain.
If true, the seizure of the drone would be the third reported incident involving Iran and US drones in the past two years. Last month Iranian fighter jets fired on a US drone in the Gulf but failed to bring it down, according to the US defence department.
Pentagon said the unmanned aircraft came under fire - at least twice but was not hit - and that the Predator was over international waters. The November 1 shooting in the Gulf was unprecedented, and further escalated tensions between the US and Iran, which is under international sanctions over its suspect nuclear programme.
The US and its allies believe Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation and cancer treatment.
Exactly a year ago, on December 4, Iran claimed to have captured a much bigger and more sophisticated stealth drone, a bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel. Iran rejected a US request for its return and said it would reverse-engineer that drone to make its own.
State television networks Al-Alam and Press TV showed footage of what they said was the ScanEagle drone they had captured. The light-grey vehicle was shown suspended inside a hangar and apparently intact, with two Revolutionary Guard officers examining it in front of a poster saying, in English: "We shall trample on the US."
A politician who chairs the Iranian parliament's defence commission, Esmaeel Kosari, boasted to Al-Alam of the drone's capture and warned of "decisive confrontation" if Iranian airspace was violated again. "The drone was captured and landed safely and intact. The capture is a source of pride for our armed forces as the drone uses advanced technology," said Kosari, a former Guards commander himself.
Iran "possesses the capability and technology to confront such violations," he said. Iran's foreign ministry said last week the US had violated Iranian airspace eight times in October, and warned of a "serious reaction" if such incursions continued.