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Iran denies it harbors al Qaeda terrorists

In the wake of last week's attacks in Saudi Arabia, U.S. sources have said an al Qaeda chief may have played a role in planning the bombings from Iran.
In the wake of last week's attacks in Saudi Arabia, U.S. sources have said an al Qaeda chief may have played a role in planning the bombings from Iran.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iran denied Tuesday that it is harboring al Qaeda operatives, responding to allegations by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials that some members of the terrorist group are using the country as a base for attacks.

The U.S. government has been in communication with Iran about the alleged presence of al Qaeda members, making it clear to the nation's Islamic leadership that it must take more steps against terrorism, U.S. officials said Monday.

This overture comes as the probe intensifies into near-simultaneous car bombings May 12 in Saudi Arabia, with the FBI and other U.S. investigators aiding the Saudis. Twenty-five people -- including eight Americans -- died in the bombings. Nine suicide bombers also were killed.

Senior U.S. government sources told CNN last week evidence suggested al Qaeda's operations chief was in Iran and may have played a role in planning the Saudi attacks.

However, on the Web site of Iran's state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi rebutted remarks by Rumsfeld that al Qaeda leaders are in Iran, adding that his nation has no links to the "fundamentalist and violent" network.

"In case of confronting al Qaeda, Iran will act according to its programs and within the U.N. framework, as it did in extraditing the operatives of the group to their countries of origin that in several cases included Western states," Asefi said. "Iran is 'very serious' in confronting al Qaeda and the likes of the network."

On Thursday, Rumsfeld said, "We know there is senior al Qaeda in Iran."

Senior U.S. officials said al Qaeda operations chief, Saif al-Adel, is one of several al Qaeda leaders believed to be in Iran. One official said al-Adel "may have been a major player" in the Riyadh attacks.

But Asefi accused the United States of trying to divert attention from domestic problems and what he said was its failure to fight terrorism by lodging allegations against other nations.

One senior U.S. administration official said Monday that there is no doubt senior al Qaeda leaders are passing through Iran and at times staying there.

The official said the "jury is still out" on the depth of ties between al Qaeda figures and the Iranian government.

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