WASHINGTON — Iran said Friday that it would try a dozen suspected Al Qaeda members, but Iranian officials declined to identify the suspects and the U.S. demanded that they be turned over to their home countries.
U.S. officials have said Al Qaeda figures in Iran include Saif Adel, an Egyptian who is the group's top military commander. Adel is a former security chief for Osama bin Laden and is believed to be responsible for some of the terrorist network's most destructive attacks, including the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and strikes last year on residential compounds in Saudi Arabia.
Other suspects thought by intelligence experts to be in Iran are Sulaiman abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti who is considered the group's spokesman; Abu Musab Zarqawi, whom some U.S. officials describe as a possible link between Al Qaeda and deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein; and Bin Laden's son Saad.
Iran's intention to put Al Qaeda suspects on trial was disclosed by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum.
"They are currently in prison," Kharrazi said. "Their relations are cut off from outside, and they are going to be tried."
Kharrazi did not say when the trials would begin.
He said that for security reasons, he could not name any of the suspects.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, "The action we want to see is that they turn over those Al Qaeda members in their custody to their country of origin."
But Kharrazi told reporters that the suspects had threatened national security: "This is our right to put on trial anyone who has committed crimes in our territory."
After announcing the plans to try the suspects, Kharrazi held a 90-minute meeting with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware -- the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- a rare high-level contact between Iran and the United States. The two nations do not have diplomatic relations.
The two met in view of journalists, but both declined to comment to reporters.