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Official: Iran Offers to Return Egyptian Terrorists to Cairo

Iran (search) has offered to hand over several Egyptian militants to Cairo, an Egyptian security official said Thursday.

Iran has said it has a number of Al Qaeda (search) members in custody, including some senior figures and that it will repatriate them to their home countries.

The suspects Iran offered to hand over to Egypt belonged to Islamic Jihad, an extremist group headed by Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden's deputy, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri (search), said the Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Al-Zawahri reportedly brought members of his group into Al Qaeda when he allied with bin Laden.

The official did not name the militants or say how many might be returned.

Iran's Foreign Ministry made the offer to Egyptian authorities last month, but Cairo has not yet officially responded, the official said without elaborating.

Iranian officials in Tehran declined to comment.

U.S. officials have said intelligence suggests senior Al Qaeda figures and associates are inside Iran, including high value operatives such as Egyptian-born Saif al-Adil, believed to be bin Laden's security chief and possibly connected to the May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh that killed 25 people and nine attackers.

Saif al-Adil, or "Sword of Justice" in Arabic, is believed to be an alias used by Mohammed Ibrahim Mikkawi, an army veteran who left Egypt in the early 1990s, although he is not wanted on criminal charges.

The United States has accused Iran of harboring terrorists and demanded Tehran deport them either to jurisdictions where they're wanted for crimes, or to their home countries.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari told the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat that Iran would not extradite any suspected Al Qaeda detainees to America since "there are no justifications for handing over the citizens of neighboring and friendly countries to [a third] country."

Iran and Egypt have not held full diplomatic relations since 1980, shortly after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, but they operate interest sections in either country.

Taking custody of senior Al Qaeda figures could prove problematic for Egypt, which was home to an Islamic insurgency that killed hundreds of people -- mainly police and militants -- in the 1990s. Egypt has not seen any terror attacks since 1997 when militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians in Luxor, southern Egypt.

In 1993, Cairo handed over to Washington Mahmoud Abou Halima, an Egyptian wanted in the World Trade Center bombing.

Other Al Qaeda figures U.S. officials have said may be in Iran are Abu Mohamed al-Masri, an Egyptian linked to the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa; Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who Washington alleges was a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein; and Saudi-born bin Laden's son, Saad.