PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) - Iran has deported many al-Qaida suspects but will not extradite any to the United States despite requests to do so, President Mohammad Khatami said Friday at a summit of Islamic nations.
The Bush administration has urged Iran to hand over several alleged senior members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network. American officials believe Tehran has the suspects in custody after they fled to Iran from neighboring Afghanistan when a U.S.-led coalition ousted the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001.
President Khatami did not say how many al-Qaida suspects it expelled, where they sent them or whether they included any of the men sought by U.S. authorities.
"We are not going to provide safe havens for them (al-Qaida operatives) in our country, and we have deported many them," Khatami told reporters at a summit of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference in Malaysia.
The Iranian president said there were no legal provisions for extraditing the suspects to the United States.
"We have no contract or agreement with the United States for the extradition of criminals," Khatami said. "When their nationalities are established, they will be deported."
U.S. officials have said intelligence reports suggest that Iran is holding Saif al-Adl, a suspected top al-Qaida agent possibly connected to the deadly May 12 bombings in Riyadh; Abu Mohammed al-Masri, wanted in connection with the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998; Abu Musab Zarqawi, described by U.S. officials as a possible link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein; and Saad bin Laden, the son of bin Laden.
Khatami denied accusations by Washington that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism.
"They are committing all these violent acts in the name of Islam and they want to portray us as a violent religion," he said of terrorists. "We will never support them, they will have no place in our country."