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Iran Arrests 150 Suspected Taliban, al Qaeda Members

Aired February 14, 2002 - 14:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: There is breaking news right now, from Tehran, Iran. Kasra Naji of CNN joins us by telephone, and apparently there had been several arrests of suspected Taliban or al Qaeda members. Kasra, clear this up. What's happening?

KASRA NAJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's more than several. Iran says it has arrested 150 people suspected of being either members of the Taliban or al Qaeda, and they are Arab, African and European nationals. The Iranian News Agency has come out with its report. They are quoting an informed source who didn't want to be named as saying that they were picked up in the Iranian towns and cities close to the border with Afghanistan. They don't say when they were arrested. But this informed sources say they include women and children, and some of them hold passports, Dutch passport, French, British and Spanish passports.

The informed source also says that they're still being interrogated. Their preliminary interrogations, according to him, show that none of them are significant members of al Qaeda or the Taliban, but nevertheless they are continuing to interrogate them. They say that they have informed the embassies of these countries of the arrests of their nationals. And they also say that many of these people crossed Afghanistan border into Pakistan soon after the start of U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan, and they had traveled from 750 kilometers inside of Pakistani territory before reaching Iran. And this informed source is expressing surprise why the Pakistani authorities have not been able to pick them up before.

So I recap, Iran says it has arrested 150 Arab, African and European nationals it suspects of being members of either the Taliban or al Qaeda, and they include British, French, Dutch and Spanish nationals.

HEMMER: Kasra, a couple of follow-ups quickly. Any military connections on the 150 you're talking about?

NAJI: We don't know yet. I mean, what we know is what this informed source has been telling the Iranian News Agency. And this comes after a day or two of sporadic press reports here quoting unnamed sources that some members of al Qaeda or Taliban have been arrested. But nothing more than that. I'm afraid we don't know anymore than this.

HEMMER: One other thing, Kasra. You know the relationship, ever since the "axis of evil" comment was announced in Washington back at the State of the Union address in January, that relations between the United States and Iran publicly have been somewhat fueled at this point. What is the reaction on the streets of Tehran, not just to that speech and that report, but how this arrest announcement may contribute to that -- the dynamics of that relationship?

NAJI: Interestingly, this informed source also says that -- confirms, in fact -- as an earlier CNN reports we have -- that the U.S., the government of the United States have passed some information on alleged interference of Iran in Afghanistan to the Iranian authorities, and this informed source says that, yes, we did receive information from the U.S., but this is the information is inaccurate and outdated, and of no use.

It all seems to me that -- that there's all these allegations of Iran's interference in Afghanistan, and destabilizing Afghanistan, also allegations that Iran has helped al Qaeda members escape through Iran, something that Iran has been denying all along, that has come to the point that Iran feels that it has to show that it has been acting on -- and it has been keeping watch on its border. And now it says that they have indeed arrested these people, and they are -- they have informed embassies of these foreign nationals, the international members, either of Taliban or al Qaeda.

Some Iranian officials have been saying that if they do arrest any Taliban or al Qaeda people, we will return them to their countries of origin. I guess that's why they have been contacting the embassies of these countries.

I guess all and all it adds up to the fact that Iran wants to show that it is dealing with terrorism, it is trying -- it's making its own efforts to combat terrorism, and this is part of that effort.

HEMMER: Certainly could be. Kasra, thanks. Kasra Naji by telephone there in Tehran. Again, the headline: 150 suspected possibly Taliban or al Qaeda members picked up there in Iran. We'll continue to track that, certainly. Kasra, thanks for the breaking news from Iran.

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