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Monday, 12 August, 2002, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Iran confirms al-Qaeda suspect handover
Taleban prisoners
Iran had previously been accused of helping al-Qaeda
Iran has confirmed it handed over 16 suspected fighters from Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network to Saudi Arabia.


Iran has not only co-operated with Saudi Arabia in this conflict in Afghanistan, but co-operated extensively with the United States

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said that the 16 men were handed over as a sign of the country's co-operation with the United Nations' campaign against terrorism, and added that other suspects had been handed over to other countries.

"Verifying that they belong to al-Qaeda, or any other information related to them, is the responsibility of those countries," he told Reuters news agency.

The 16 men are all Saudi nationals and had taken refuge in Iran following US military action in Afghanistan.

Intelligence hope

On Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that the men were currently being interrogated.

Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal
The prince said Saudi suspects would be "punished severely"

In an interview with American television channel CBS, the prince said that the men had been handed over in the hope that they would have valuable intelligence regarding the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington.

Although he did not say whether the men would be extradited to the US if evidence of involvement was found, Prince Saud said any Saudi nationals found to be involved in terrorism would be held accountable in their own country.

"They will be put on trial inside Saudi Arabia and they will be punished severely," he said.

US ambivalence

The Bush administration has played down the report, with one senior senator claiming that Iran had supported members of al-Qaeda in the past.

"This is one instance that serves the purposes of the Saudis and also the Iranians," US Senator Fred Thompson of the Senate Intelligence Committee told a US television programme.

"But over a longer period of time, the track record has not been very good," he said.

US President George W Bush has condemned Iran as being part of an "axis of evil", along with Iraq and North Korea.

In contrast, Prince Saud had suggested that Iran had worked directly with America to combat al-Qaeda, but he declined to provide further details.

"The US and Iran can speak for themselves as to how much co-operation happened between the two countries," he said.

"Iran has not only co-operated with Saudi Arabia in this conflict in Afghanistan, but co-operated extensively with the United States," he said.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

11 Aug 02 | Middle East
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
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05 Feb 02 | Middle East
11 Jan 02 | South Asia
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