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Rumsfeld: al-Qaida Operatives Are in Iran - 2003-05-20

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is hinting al-Qaida terrorists based in Iran may have had a role in the latest bloody bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Rumsfeld says there is no question but that there are al-Qaida operatives in Iran. He also says he is aware of reports they may have been involved in planning or assisting the latest terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Rumsfeld says his own knowledge of a possible Iranian connection comes from intelligence documents, not press items. But he declines to reveal any sensitive information.

"I have no information about al-Qaida who were engaged physically in Saudi Arabia then fleeing to Iran," he said. "I have seen all of the chatter out there in the press about the possibility that people in Iran may or may not have been involved in one way or another in the planning or the assisting of attacks that took place in Saudi Arabia, but I'm not commenting on that."

Iran has disputed charges that al-Qaida operatives are inside its territory and a spokesman said Tuesday Tehran is very serious about confronting the terrorist group.

But Mr. Rumsfeld's comments follow a Washington Post newspaper report claiming a top al-Qaida leader named Saif Atel helped organize the bombings and is believed to be hiding in Iran.

The newspaper says he allegedly issued orders for the bombings to a Saudi citizen who was in charge of carrying out the attacks.

In response to further questions from reporters at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld issued a new warning to countries that harbor terrorists. But he did not mention Iran by name.

"And countries that are harboring those terrorist networks and providing a haven for them are behaving as terrorists by so doing," he said.

Saudi Arabia has arrested several suspects in last week's bombings with apparent ties to al-Qaida. The blasts killed 34 people, including eight Americans.