Published July 18, 2004
| Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said Sunday some Al Qaeda operatives blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks (search) on the United States may have illegally passed through Iran from Afghanistan months before the terror strike, but Tehran dismissed as "fabrications" U.S. reports that Iran may have helped in the assault.
"It's normal that five or six people may have crossed the border within a couple of months without our knowledge. ... Our borders are long and it's not possible to fully control them," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.
Asefi was responding to a September 11 Commission report, expected out Thursday, that says Iran may have facilitated the 2001 attacks in the United States by providing eight to 10 Al Qaeda (search) hijackers with safe passage to and from terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
"Even more people may (illegally) cross the border between Mexico and the United States," he said.
The spokesman said possible crossings through Iran occurred months before the Sept. 11 attacks but Iran has since increased border security.
"Who knew Sept. 11 was going to happen?" Asefi told reporters.
Iran insists it has made a significant contribution to the war on terror by arresting agents of Usama bin Laden's (search) Al Qaeda terror network, but the United States accuses Tehran of harboring — not cracking down on — Al Qaeda fugitives.
Tehran also complains that instead of rewarding Tehran, President Bush included Iran in the list of his "axis of evil" partners together with North Korea and prewar Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
Asefi said Iran will remain committed to fighting Al Qaeda.
"Iran has proved it is against terrorists and extremism and that it is serious in fighting terrorists," he said.
Asefi said Iran was not surprised by the U.S. allegations.
"The more we approach the (U.S.) presidential elections, we will witness more of such news fabrications," he said.
The spokesman said America was accusing Iran of harboring Al Qaeda to cover "its defeat in Iraq."
Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said last year that Iran was holding "a large number of small and big-time elements of Al Qaeda." Iran says it has handed over more than 500 suspected Al Qaeda operatives, most of them Saudis, to their home countries.
Iranian officials also have said some Al Qaeda terror suspects would stand trial in Iranian courts because they have committed crimes in Iran.
American counterterrorism officials have said a handful of senior Al Qaeda operatives who fled to Iran after the war in Afghanistan three years ago may have developed a working relationship with a secretive military unit linked to Iran's religious hard-liners. Iran has rejected the charges.