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Iran Will Never Be a Sanctuary for al-Qaida, says Top Official - 2003-02-16

A top Iranian official says Tehran continues to arrest and deport anyone with suspected links to the terror group al-Qaida and denies a report that the eldest son of Osama bin Laden is in Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Sunday Tehran had arrested and deported more than 500 people with suspected links to al-Qaida. He said the arrests and deportations began shortly after the collapse of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001.

The foreign minister said it is Iran's policy to arrest those suspected of having links to al-Qaida and return them to their countries of origin.

And, although published reports, in Asharq Al-Awsat, last week said the eldest son of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was in Iran, Mr. Kharrazi said Tehran is unaware of his presence inside the Islamic Republic.

U.S. officials have said al-Qaida members fleeing from Afghanistan had established a presence in Iran and Iraq. Baghdad denies the presence of any members of the terror group.

Mr. Kharrazi said Sunday Iran will never be a sanctuary for members of al-Qaida.