Published January 13, 2015
Several key Al Qaeda members, including Usama bin Laden's son Saad, are in Iranian custody, according to Saudi officials.
Iran also ruled out Wednesday allowing the United States to question non-Saudi Al Qaeda operatives in Tehran's custody.
"No," was President Mohammad Khatami's brief reply when reporters asked Wednesday if Iran would allow U.S. investigators access.
Reuters reported that as of Tuesday, Tehran had not responded to Riyadh's request to extradite the Saudi citizens, including presumably Saad bin Laden (search), to their country of origin. But the Associated Press reported Wednesday that Khatami said Tehran would hand over Saudi natives.
Saudi officials on Tuesday said the natives included bin Laden's security chief Saif al-Adl (search), an Egyptian; Al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith (search), a Kuwaiti; and Abu Musab Zarqawi (search), a Jordanian cited by the U.S. government as the link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
U.S. officials for some time have said intelligence suggests that Al Qaeda figures in Iran include al-Adl, who is possibly connected to the May 12 bombings in Riyadh; Abu Mohammed al-Masri (search), wanted in connection with the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998; Zarqawi and and Saad bin Laden.
On a visit to Australia Tuesday, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage told reporters the United States wanted to talk to the suspects.
"We know that Iran, to her own admission, is holding a certain number of Al Qaeda," Armitage said. "Some of them we believe to be quite high-level. We'd like to get access to them and interrogate them to try to head off whatever plans they've already got in the works."
Khatami said Iran was ready to hand over Saudi Al Qaeda detainees to Saudi Arabia, which is investigating the May 12 bombings in Riyadh, its capital.
"If their nationality is Saudi, we have no problem handing them over. We have no problem cooperating with Saudi Arabia," Khatami told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.
A senior Saudi official confirmed the names of those Al Qaeda suspects in Tehran's custody on Tuesday. U.S. officials did not confirm the names, however, as of Wednesday morning.
"We are very much confident, actually, that those names are there as well as others," the Saudi official said, Reuters reported.
"We are aware that there are at least another 10 or 12 major Qaeda fish ... as well as many others who could be supporters," he said, without identifying the others. "We know they are in safe houses under Iranian control."
On Monday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran would try Al Qaeda operatives in Iranian custody whose nationalities are not clear and if no country takes them.
Asefi also said Iran will also try those Al Qaeda figures who have committed crimes in Iran.
Last week, Iran's government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said Iran wouldn't hand over senior Al Qaeda captives to the United States because Iran has no extradition treaty with Washington.
Iran had said they would extradite the terror suspects to "friendly" countries with which they did have such agreements.
Intelligence Minister Yunesi confirmed for the first time last month that Iran was holding "a large number of small and big-time elements of Al Qaeda." Iran has not identified any of the detainees, citing security reasons.
Many Al Qaeda operatives are believed to have fled to Iran after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001.
Fox News' Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.