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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Saudis to keep al-Qaeda suspects
Taleban prisoners
Al-Qaeda suspects have taken refuge in Iran
Saudi Arabia has ruled out handing over to the United States 16 alleged al-Qaeda fighters who were recently extradited from Iran.

The men will not be given up even if the Americans make an official request, said Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faysal.


If involvement of any of the 16 suspects in terrorist acts is proved they would be tried in accordance with Saudi laws

Prince Saud

However, Saudi Arabia would be willing to share any information it received from the men with the US, Prince Saud told the London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Iran earlier confirmed it had handed over the suspected fighters to the Saudis.

Prince Saud announced on Sunday that Tehran had detained the group - all Saudi nationals who took refuge in Iran after the US military action in Afghanistan.

The surprise announcement followed criticism of both countries by Washington for a perceived lack of co-operation in the war on terror.

Home trial

According to the Saudi minister, the 16 men are being questioned and will be put on trial under Saudi laws if there is evidence of their involvement in acts of terror.

He earlier said that Saudi officials had gone to Iran in May to question the group who were then flown home on a government jet.
Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal
The prince said Saudi suspects would be "punished severely"

Iran said the 16 men were handed over as a sign of the country's co-operation with the United Nations' campaign against terrorism.

Other suspects had been handed over to other countries, Iran said.

"Verifying that they belong to al-Qaeda, or any other information related to them, is the responsibility of those countries," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told Reuters news agency.

US not impressed

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


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