TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said Monday it has identified some people it has in custody as members of Al Qaeda, but declined to disclose their names or how many it is holding.
The U.S. government has accused Iran of harboring senior figures in Al Qaeda, the terror group blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks. Iran denies the charge, saying its policy is to arrest and deport members of the organization.
"We have identified some of the Al Qaeda members in our custody," government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told reporters.
Asked if those identified included Al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith or security chief Saif al-Adil, the spokesman said: "Their names cannot be given for security reasons."
Iran will deport the alleged members of the terror group if it determines they are from "friendly" countries, while those accused of crimes in Iran will be prosecuted, Ramezanzadeh said.
U.S. officials said they suspect Al Qaeda operatives in Iran had a role in the suicide bombing of Western compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 12. Iran denied the allegation. Saudi Arabia has said it will seek the extradition of any Al Qaeda suspects in Iranian custody.
Earlier this year, Iran said it had extradited more than 500 Al Qaeda members to their countries of origin — including Arab, European and African countries. Many Al Qaeda operatives are believed to have fled to Iran after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001.