Iran arrests Iranian al Qaeda backers - state TV


Iran has arrested a number of Iranian supporters of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group, the country's intelligence minister was quoted as saying by state television yesterday.

"Iran's intelligence apparatus has identified and arrested small Iranian deviate branches of the al Qaeda group," state television quoted minister Mr Ali Yunesi as saying. It did not elaborate or specify how many were detained.

Washington accuses Iran of harboring and collaborating with al Qaeda militants who fled Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, a charge Tehran denies.

Mr Yunesi warned Iran would take a tough line against militants using Iran as a base. "Those who seek to misuse the safe situation in Iran will face serious consequences," he said.

Iran says it has arrested and repatriated hundreds of al Qaeda suspects in the last two years. It also says it wants to try other al Qaeda suspects it has detained who come from countries viewed as unfriendly.

A suspected Saudi al Qaeda militant, Khaled al-Harbi, who appeared in a videotape with bin Laden, gave himself up in Iran this week after Saudi Arabia announced an amnesty. He was flown back to the kingdom on Tuesday.

US officials said on Friday the commission investigating the September. 11th hijacking attacks would discuss al Qaeda links to Iran in its report expected next week.

Sources in Washington said the report would mention that some of the hijackers had passed through Iran on the way to the United States. But they said there was no evidence that Iran helped al Qaeda with the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.