Bush: U.S. probes possible Iran links to 9/11
Tehran government hiding al Qaeda members, president says
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says Washington is investigating whether Tehran played a role in the September 11 attacks, and has accused Iran of harboring members of al Qaeda.
The U.S. commission investigating the attacks is expected to charge in its final report that several of the hijackers passed through Iran ahead of the attacks.
"As to direct connections to September 11, we're digging into the facts to determine if there was one," Bush said on Monday.
"I have long expressed my concerns about Iran. After all, it is a totalitarian society where free people are not allowed to exercise their rights as human beings."
The CIA, however, has found no sign of a direct connection between Tehran and the suicide hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people, he said.
The acting head of the agency, John McLaughlin, said at the weekend that while Iran was used as a frequent route for traveling al Qaeda, it did not support the terrorist attacks.
The bipartisan, independent commission is expected to release a critical report on Thursday of the administration's handling of the terrorist attacks, and it will address any aid offered to the 9/11 hijackers by Iran.
The commission has found that eight to 10 of the hijackers passed through Iran between October 2000 and February 2001, Time magazine reported this week.
The magazine said that commission investigators have found that Iran had a history of allowing al Qaeda members to enter and leave the country across the Afghan border.
But the report does not offer evidence that Tehran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.
If the country's Islamic government is to improve ties with Washington, the president said, it must hand over any al Qaeda members to their home countries and abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.
It should also end its support of Islamic militant groups such as Hezbollah, which the United States considers to be a terrorist organization, he said.
Iran says that talk of a 9/11 connection is election-year rhetoric, and says it has al Qaeda members in its custody and will put them on trial.
It denies trying to develop a nuclear bomb, saying its nuclear program is aimed at producing electrical power.
But the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, has rebuked Iran for not cooperating with the international community.
Bush branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union speech, along with Iraq and North Korea.
The United States led an invasion into Iraq a year later after accusing Baghdad of harboring terrorists and concealing weapons of mass destruction from U.N. inspectors. Nearly 140,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq after the establishment of an interim government.
CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.