Iran says it still holds 100 Al Qaida members

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Iran has announced that it is still holding a large number of Al Qaida members.

Iranian officials have confirmed that senior Al Qaida agents are among the detainees. They said at least 100 Al Qaida members remain in custody.

"Since the collapse of the Taliban regime we have arrested a large number of them," Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said on Wednesday.

Last year, Iran was said to have detained 500 Al Qaida members who fled from Afghanistan in late 2001 and early 2002, Middle East Newsline reported. Most of the Al Qaida members were said to have been released.

"Many of them have been expelled and a large number of them are in our custody a mixture of big and small members. I said big and small members."

Yunesi did not elaborate. He did not identify any of the Al Qaida detainees and refused to provide a figure for those being held by Iran.

"Wherever we learn of some clues about people connected to Al Qaida, we launch intelligence operations and arrest them," Yunesi told a news conference. "We are ready to hand over those Al Qaida members with whose countries we have friendly ties."

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mussavi Lari was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying that Teheran plans to soon extradite Al Qaida members. Lari said some of the Al Qaida agents would be sent to countries that have signed agreements with Iran. He said others would be placed on trial.

Earlier, Western diplomatic sources said Iran has been holding such Al Qaida leaders as the son of Osama Bin Laden, the No. 2 member of the movement, Ayman Zawahiri, and operations chief Seif Al Adel.

The sources also said Abu Musab Zarqawi and training chief Abu Mohammed Al Masri have been captured over the last few months.

Iran has acknowledged that it is holding Al Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith, a Kuwaiti native. But Kuwait has rejected Iran's extradition of Abu Gheith to the sheikdom.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have also discussed the extradition of Al Qaida insurgents to the kingdom. Earlier this month, the two countries signed an accord that would allow for the extradition of suspects.

The United States has tried to obtain Iranian agreement for the extradition of at least two Al Qaida insurgents, Al Adel and Al Masri, both connected to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Egypt is said to have relayed a request for the extradition of Zawahiri, head of the Jihad insurgency group.

"I think it is significant that they have now acknowledged rather publicly the presence and detention of Al Qaida members," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington. "We are not in receipt of those names."

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