U.S. says Iran, Iraq may be hideouts for al Qaeda heads
Iranian government says no al Qaeda operatives are there
August 28, 2002     1:46 PM EDT
From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau
U.S. intelligence says Saif al-Adel, one of the FBI's "most-wanted terrorists," could be in Iran. The Iranian government says he's not there.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Intelligence sources said Wednesday they now believe that ranking al Qaeda figures could be among the terrorists hiding in Iran and Iraq, CNN has learned.
 For weeks, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said there are al Qaeda operatives in both countries, and it's known that the government in Iran recently expelled some of those terrorists to Saudi Arabia.

But an update from what's described as an "intelligence assessment" says there now are top-tier al Qaeda members in Iran, just over the border from Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda provided much of the muscle behind Afghanistan's former Taliban regime, which was purged during the United States' response to the terrorist attacks of September 11.  The group and its leader, Osama bin Laden, are linked to those attacks.

 Experts are split on whether bin Laden or other al Qaeda kingpins have taken refuge in Iran and Iraq.  There has been no known confirmed identification of any high-level operative there.

One ranking al Qaeda member alleged to be in Iran is Mahfouz Ould Walid and nicknamed Abu Hafs the Mauritanian.  He is considered a religious voice in al Qaeda, according to U.S. intelligence.

Another possible al Qaeda figure who may be in Iran is Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian national thought to serve as an operational planner with the terrorist group.

Responding to a report in the Washington Post, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Walid and al-Adel are not in Iran.  Hamid Reza Assefi, a spokesman for the ministry, said "Iran has all along discharged its responsibilities against terrorism and it is its policy not to provide shelter to al Qaeda members.  The two people mentioned in Washington Post are not in Iran.  Following its policies, the government of Iran has not allowed terrorists to enter its territory."

Another man, a top al Qaeda operations manager named Abu Musab Zar-Qawi, may be in northern Iraq and shielded by Kurdish militants, according to U.S. intelligence.