- WASHINGTON (UPI) -- At least
20 suspected members of al Qaida, possibly including one of the sons of
accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, were deported by Iran to
Pakistan two months ago and handed over to the Americans, according to
Pakistani intelligence officials.
- The two officials -- reached by telephone in Islamabad
-- confirmed media reports of the deportation Sunday, and added that the
suspects had been given to U.S. authorities. But whether bin Laden's son
was among the group remained unclear.
- A U.S. official, said he could not discuss "who
the Pakistanis had turned over to us and how."
- "We are very pleased with the level of cooperation
we have with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and we will continue working with
them," the official, who works at the U.S. State Department, told
United Press International.
- Later, he added his guess was that if the Iranians had
bin Laden's son, they would not have given him to the Pakistanis.
- "They would hand him over to the Saudis because
he is a Saudi national," said the official, adding, "It's just
- Iranian policy on returning those who have crossed its
borders without proper documentation -- as they say the group of al Qaida
suspects did -- is unclear. Officials have made contradictory statements
about the destination of the group they deported.
- The Saudis have, so far, not commented on the report.
- Neither Pakistani official was willing to confirm that
bin Laden's son was among the prisoners. And contradictory statements from
Iranian officials have done nothing to resolve the question.
- "If bin Laden's son was among them, the Americans
would have said so but we never heard anything about him from the Americans
or the Iranians," said one Pakistani official.
- Sunday, a government spokesman in Tehran confirmed a
report published in the Financial Times, that bin Laden's son was among
the 20 al Qaida suspects deported to what he described as "a neighboring
country" two months ago.
- "Since they were not holding ID cards, we repatriated
them to the country they were coming from," said Abdullah Ramezanzadeh,
the Iranian government spokesman, referring to a group of 20 people detained
in a border security operation in eastern Iran. He said Iranian authorities
later learned that bin Laden's son was among them, but did not say how.
- But Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told the
FT a much larger group of people -- 250 in all -- suspected of having links
with al Qaida had been deported to their home countries.
- Monday, Ramzanzadeh added to the confusion by contradicting
his previous statements, saying he was unsure if one of bin Laden's sons
was in the group.
- "Later we heard gossip that bin Laden's son was
among them," he told the student news agency ISNA.
- "But none of the people who entered the country
had identification papers with them... So from our point of view, recognizing
their identities was impossible."
- Pakistan's Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said Monday
he had no knowledge of Iran returning one of bin Laden's sons to the country.
- Bin Laden has 23 sons but only two of them are believed
to be active in al Qaida. Iranian officials did not identify the one they
said they had deported to Pakistan.
- One of the bin Laden's sons, Saad bin Laden, who is in
his 20s, would be of particular interest to U.S. authorities, who believe
he is a potential successor to his father as leader of the al Qaida organization.
- Copyright © 2002 United Press International