DUBAI: Iran took steps on Monday to try to limit the diplomatic damage from an attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran by an angry mob, laying blame on a top security official and saying some of those who carried out the attack were being interrogated.

Iranian officials appear to fear that the Jan 2 storming of the embassy by a mob protesting the execution of a Shia cleric may derail moves to end years of isolation with the West following the signing of a landmark nuclear deal with world powers in July.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and some other states have broken off ties with Iran over the attack. The United Arab Emirates downgraded relations while some others recalled their envoys in protest.

The Iranian government quickly distanced itself from the attack, saying the protesters had entered the Saudi embassy despite widespread efforts by the police to stop them.

“Based on primary investigations the mistakes of Safar-Ali Baratlou, Tehran province’s deputy governor for security affairs, were proved and he was promptly replaced due to sensitivity of the case,” the interior ministry announced in a statement published by the Fars news agency on Monday.

Some of the attackers have been identified, captured and interrogated, Tehran general prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

President Hassan Rouhani asked Iran’s judiciary last week to urgently prosecute those who attacked the Saudi embassy “to put an end once and for all to such damage and insults to Iran’s dignity and national security”.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has accused Saudi Arabia of supporting extremists and “promoting sectarian hatred”, urging the country to instead engage in promoting regional stability.

Writing in The New York Times, he said Saudi Arabia had devoted itself to trying to stop Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and blocked attempts at dialogue in the Middle East.

“Some in Riyadh not only continue to impede normalisation but are determined to drag the entire region into confrontation,” he wrote, arguing that the kingdom was “driven by fear that its contrived Iranophobia was crumbling”.

“Saudi Arabia seems to fear that the removal of the smoke screen of the nuclear issue will expose the real global threat: its active sponsorship of violent extremism.”

Mr Zarif said the execution of the cleric had shown that Saudi Arabia’s “barbarism is clear” and it was promoting the kind of extremist views taken up by groups like the militant Islamic State organisation.

“At home, state executioners sever heads with swords, as in the recent execution of 47 prisoners in one day,” he wrote, describing Nimr as a respected religious scholar devoted to peace.

“Abroad, masked men sever heads with knives. Let us not forget that the perpetrators of many acts of terror... as well as nearly all members of extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, have been either Saudi nationals or brainwashed by petrodollar-financed demagogues who have promoted anti-Islamic messages of hatred and sectarianism for decades.”

Mr Zarif said Iran had immediately condemned the violence at the Saudi embassy and had since taken action against those who failed to protect the compound, while an investigation was under way.

He also said Iran had showed restraint after events such as last year’s Haj, where 464 Iranians were among more than 2,000 pilgrims killed in a stampede, and had not cut or reduced its diplomatic relations with the kingdom.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2016