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Analysts Ask Why Saudis Took So Long to Reveal al-Qaida Prisoner Turnover - 2002-08-12

Political analysts in the Middle East say Saudi Arabia should explain why it took several months to reveal that Iran handed over a group of suspected al-Qaida fighters to Saudi Arabia. Some analysts believe it was Iran that requested the information be made public as part of a diplomatic campaign.

Saudi officials confirmed Sunday that Iran, at the request of Saudi Arabia, handed over 16 suspected al-Qaida fighters in June. Saudi officials say the 16 suspects fled Afghanistan for Iran where they were taken into custody. The United States blames Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network for the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Political analyst Hassan Nafae says Saudi Arabia needs to explain why it took several months to make the disclosure, a disclosure he believes may have come at the request of Iran.

"Iran may have asked Saudi Arabia to unveil this situation to send a signal to the Arab public opinion or the world public opinion that Iran is cooperating with the United States and with the other countries, including Saudi Arabia, to fight terror in the world," he said. "I'm afraid that Iran is feeling the coming days will be very tough, not only for Iraq but maybe for Iran and some other partners in the Middle East."

Mr. Nafae, who heads the political science department at Cairo University, says Iran is extremely concerned about the continued presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He says Iran fears that any U.S.-led attack against Iraq could spread to Iran.

Mr. Nafae says there is growing tension in the Middle East regarding a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq. As a result, he says he believes every country is interested in showing it is willing to cooperate with the U.S.- led war against terror.

President Bush earlier this year branded Iran as being part of an axis of evil along with Iraq and North Korea. U.S. officials have accused Iran is sheltering al-Qaida fighters, a charge Iran has strongly denied.

Saudi officials say any intelligence gathered from the 16 suspects in custody would be passed to authorities in the United States.