BEIRUT (Reuters) - Iran on Tuesday said it was not aware of the presence of three al Qaeda operatives who the U.S. Treasury alleged last week to be living in the country.
Last Wednesday the U.S. Treasury said it was blacklisting a Saudi, an Egyptian and an Algerian who it said were members of al Qaeda living in Iran.
Their activities included liaising between the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda, and sending funds to al Qaeda fighters in Syria, the Treasury said.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has no information about the presence of these people on its own soil,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi was cited as saying by the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
Iran has held several al Qaeda members, both high-ranking and lower-level, since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, although U.S. officials say the precise conditions of their confinement are unclear.
Iran, a Shi‘ite Muslim theocracy, considers al Qaeda a terrorist group and Iranian security forces periodically report the arrest of al Qaeda members.
Senior U.S. officials have previously accused Iran of cooperating with the group, but Tehran denies this. The hardline Sunni Islamist group considers Shi‘ites to be heretics and has targeted them in the past.
The U.S. blacklisting freezes any property of the three men in the United States, and bars U.S. citizens from dealing with them.
Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky