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Iran Arrests Some Al-Qaida Members - 2003-05-26

Iran says it has arrested some members of the al-Qaida terrorist network who have slipped into the country, but it insists that none are ranked high in the organization.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the arrests prove Iran is committed to confronting al-Qaida, despite U.S. criticism that it is not doing enough to fight terror.

His remarks echo statements made Sunday by Iran's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. The foreign minister argued that Iran has been fighting al-Qaida longer than the United States, and considers the organization dangerous.

In addition, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, Mr. Kharrazi said Iran had done its best to expel al-Qaida operatives and has no interest in helping the organization.

He said Iran's borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan are so long and porous that al-Qaida operatives have been able to seek refuge inside the country. But he insists that Iran has arrested these people and sent them back to their countries of origin.

But American officials, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, said they have intelligence suggesting top al-Qaida members are hiding in Iran. General Myers said al-Qaida members have been in Iran off and on for some time, particularly after the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said these al-Qaida fugitives in Iran knew in advance about the suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia earlier this month. The attacks on civilian housing compounds killed 34 people, including eight Americans.

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, said Sunday the Tehran government is trying to identify a group of al-Qaida suspects in custody and is willing to hand them over to "friendly governments," such as Saudi Arabia.

The public rhetoric between the United States and Iran has escalated recently. In addition to the charge that Iran is harboring al-Qaida fugitives, U.S. officials have also accused Iran of pursuing a secret nuclear-weapons program and meddling in post-war Iraq. Iran denies the charges.