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Iran Holding Taliban Supporters

February 8, 2002

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran has detained a number of non-Afghan Taliban supporters caught trying to cross its territory and may put them on trial, the country’s intelligence minister said Thursday.

The minister, Ali Yunesi, did not specify how many Taliban supporters Iran is holding but said none are members of al-Qaida, the terrorist network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

U.S. officials have accused Iran of seeking to destabilize Afghanistan’s new government and of harboring Afghan militants _ charges that Iran vehemently denies. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said he is certain al-Qaida and Taliban fighters have found refuge in Iran.

Yunesi said the men were caught in the area where the borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet. They were headed for a third country which the minister did not identify.

``Fortunately, we arrested them and we’ll either try them in Iran or do whatever international law calls for,″ Yunesi said in comments carried on state radio.

Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi acknowledged Iran had not been able to fully control its 600-mile border with Afghanistan. Kharrazi said any al-Qaida or Taliban fighters captured in Iran would be returned to their countries.

Iran opposed the Taliban and has lent financial support to the new Afghan government. But it is believed to be concerned about growing U.S. influence in its neighborhood through America’s ties to Afghanistan’s new leadership.

The United States launched a bombing campaign on Afghanistan in October because its Taliban rulers were harboring al-Qaida. The campaign helped the Afghan opposition forces topple the regime.

Update hourly