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Tehran Demands Proof Al-Qaeda in Iran

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Tehran Demands Proof al-Qaida in Iran

Thu May 22, 1:34 PM ET

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran demanded on Thursday that Washington prove its claims that Tehran harbors al-Qaida terrorists and accused Osama bin Laden's network of "threatening" Iranian national interests.

Saeed Pourazizi, a close aide to President Mohammad Khatami, said it was Tehran's policy to crack down on al-Qaida — not support it, as senior Bush administration officials suggested a day earlier.

Al-Qaida "is a terrorist group threatening Iran's interests. Its extremist interpretation of Islam contradicts the Islamic democracy Iran is trying to promote. There is no commonality of anything between us," Pourazizi told The Associated Press.

Iran is a Shiite Muslim-dominated state, while bin Laden's al-Qaida group preaches a hard-line interpretation of the Sunni sect of the Islamic faith.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher accused Iran of harboring al-Qaida members.

"There's no question but that there have been and are today senior al-Qaida leaders in Iran, and they are busy," Rumsfeld said.

His comments came as U.S. officials raised the domestic security alert level after a surge in threatening communications and suicide bombings in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. The FBI also said attacks were "likely" against U.S. and Western interests abroad.

U.S. officials have identified five senior al-Qaida operatives who they believe have been to Iran since the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban from neighboring Afghanistan.

They include Saif al-Adil, an Egyptian described as bin Laden's security and intelligence chief; Saad bin Laden, one of the al-Qaida leader's sons; and Abu Musab Zarqawi, the operational commander who Washington accuses of ties to Saddam Hussein.

"If the United States is serious and has any evidence on the presence of al-Qaida in Iran, then they should make their evidence available to us, which will help us identify and track down alleged members of the group," Pourazizi said.

Pourazizi said Iran supported America's campaign to fight al-Qaida, but accused Washington of having a "long term" strategy to pressure Tehran.

Anoush Ehteshami, an international relations professor and director of Middle East and Islamic Studies at Durham University in Britain, said Iran's religious differences with al-Qaida make cooperation unlikely.

The U.S. claim "is part of a continued campaign of pressure on Iran ... and it aims at securing concessions from Iran, including noninterference in Iraq and in the Middle East peace process," he said in an interview.

Former Iranian deputy interior minister and political analyst Mostafa Tajzadeh said it did not serve Tehran's interests to shelter al-Qaida leaders.

"Presence of al-Qaida leaders in Iran will only bring Iran harm and give the U.S. a perfect excuse to pressurize Iran, something Iran is very careful to avoid," said Tajzadeh, a leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's biggest reformist party.

The U.S. State Department accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism, which Tehran denies. Iran also is accused of trying to undermine Mideast peace efforts.

Iranian reformists, who support Khatami's popularly elected government, have been calling for restored U.S.-Iran ties, severed since the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran.

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