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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
Iraqi minister roaming in Austria?
Naji Sabri - Iraqi Foreign Minister under Saddam Hussein
Naji Sabri: Now keeping a low profile
Former Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri - a staunch loyalist of Saddam Hussein - is using an Austrian mobile phone and may even be hiding in Austria, press reports said on Thursday.

According to Austria's Standard newspaper, the mobile phone is registered in the name of a member of the Iraqi embassy in Vienna.

Rumours that Mr Sabri - who has been on the run since the downfall of Saddam - may have taken refuge in the country have been circulating for weeks.

Interior ministry spokesman, Rudolph Gollia, could not confirm the report, but said Austrian authorities were following the rumours closely.

Austrian authorities were "co-operating within the general framework of the fight against terrorism with the US embassy in Vienna," he said.

If I had the number, I would call him
Joerg Haider, Austrian Freedom Party

A diplomat familiar with US thinking told Reuters news agency the United States would be interested in talking to Mr Sabri because he was a high-ranking member of Saddam's cabinet.

But Mr Gollia said the interior ministry would have no reason to arrest Mr Sabri if they did locate him with in Austria.

Mr Sabri is not on the US military's list of 55 most-wanted officials from the ousted Baath party administration.

Haider connection

Mr Sabri is alleged to have close ties with far-right Austrian politician, Joerg Haider, governor of the southern region of Carinthia.

Mr Haider said he had no clue as to Sabri's whereabouts, but added he had been in telephone contact with the former foreign minister several times after the outbreak of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

"If I had his telephone number, I would call him," he said.

"He is always welcome in Carinthia."

Questioned in April, Mr Haider said he did not know where Mr Sabri was, but that he was sure he was not dead.

"He is in safety," the former leader of the far-right Freedom Party told private radio Krone Hit, describing Mr Sabri as a "personal friend".

"He has good connections the world over. We don't need to worry about him," he said.

Mr Haider renewed his offer of asylum for Mr Sabri, whom he described as his friend, in a book published this year that hailed Saddam Hussein as a philosopher.




SEE ALSO:
Up close with Naji Sabri
29 Mar 03  |  From Our Own Correspondent



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