TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said Monday it won't hand over its senior Al Qaeda captives to the United States and denied reports it hopes to swap the detainees for U.S.-held Iranian opposition figures.
"We hand over Al Qaeda operatives who belong to friendly countries or countries we have signed extradition treaties [with]. We don't have an extradition treaty with the United States," government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told reporters.
Iranian officials confirmed for the first time last month that the country is holding "a large number of small and big elements of Al Qaeda." Tehran did not identify them.
Ramezanzadeh also refused to name any of the detainees, and rejected reports that Tehran may swap Al Qaeda members with leaders of the Iraq-based armed Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen, who are under U.S. control in Iraq.
"We will take members of the hypocrites [Iran's reference to People's Mujahedeen] from America if they offer, but there is no talk of swap. We don't treat the issue of terrorism selectively, nor do we make deals," Ramezanzadeh said.
U.S. officials have said intelligence suggests that Al Qaeda figures in Iran include Saif al-Adl, a top Al Qaeda agent possibly connected to the May 12 bombings in Riyadh; Abu Mohammed al-Masri, wanted in connection with the bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa in 1998; Abu Musab Zarqawi, whom some U.S. officials describe as the key link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein; and Saad bin Laden, the son of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.
Many Al Qaeda operatives are believed to have fled to Iran after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001.
Iran said earlier it was holding talks with foreign intelligence services, including Britain's, over the fate of detained Al Qaeda members. Iran has also said it would hand over to Saudi Arabia any Saudis among the detained suspects.
Earlier this year, Iran said it had extradited more than 500 Al Qaeda members to their homelands in Arab, European and African countries.
The United States last month repeated its accusations that Iran and Syria harbor terrorists, a charge both deny.