- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Pakistani officials said yesterday they had handed over to the United States at least 20 members of al Qaeda, the same group reported earlier to include a son of Osama bin Laden.

The transfer of prisoners to the United States was made about two months ago, after Iran deported the men to Pakistan, according to two Pakistani officials who were reached by telephone in the capital, Islamabad.

The Pakistani officials said they were not able to confirm whether the group contained one of bin Laden's male offspring.

A U.S. official said he could not discuss "who the Pakistanis had turned over to us and how."

"We are very pleased with the level of cooperation we have with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and we will continue working with them," the official, who works at the U.S. State Department, said.

Later, he added that his guess was that if the Iranians had bin Laden's son, they would not have given him to the Pakistanis.

"They would hand him over to the Saudis because he is a Saudi national," the official said, adding, "It's just a thought."

On Sunday a government spokesman in Tehran confirmed a report published in the Financial Times that bin Laden's son was among the 20 al Qaeda suspects deported to what he described as a "neighboring country" two months ago.

"Since they were not holding ID cards, we repatriated them to the country they were coming from," said Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, the Iranian government spokesman, referring to a group of 20 persons detained in a border security operation in eastern Iran.

He said Iranian authorities later learned that bin Laden's son was among them but did not say how.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told the Financial Times that a much larger group of people 250 in all suspected of having links with al Qaeda had been deported to their home countries.

Mr. Ramzanzadeh added to the confusion yesterday by contradicting his previous statements, saying that he, too, was not sure whether one of bin Laden's sons was in the group.

"Later we heard gossip that bin Laden's son was among them," he told the Iranian student news agency ISNA.

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