Iran responds to US demands
with one of its own

Speaking on state television, Ali Younesi informed the nation of the government’s insistence that the US hand over a man it claims is responsible for the bombing of the Imam Reza shrine that killed eleven people.

"We are well informed the US has the bomb attacker, but they are not willing to hand him over," he said.

Iran blamed the blast on the Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK). The movement is based in Iraq and last month concluded a disarmament treaty with US occupation forces. The US State Department has list MEK as a terrorist organisation, as has Iran.

MEK was given sanctuary by Iraq's ousted President Saddam Hussein in 1986 after being driven out of Iran as a result of a power struggle following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
  
MEK has always denied responsibility for the Mashad bombing, claiming the attack was carried out by Iranian intelligence agents.

In a statement it called Younesi's charges a "hurried and clumsy attempt to pre-empt ... mounting international pressure on the clerical dictatorship."

Bad relations

Accusations and counter-accusations have flown back and forth between the US and Iran this week.

The United States said on Wednesday it had told Iran to crack down on suspected Al-Qaeda members that Washington believes are operating in the country.

Rumsfeld: making
accusations

"There's no question but that there have been and are today senior Al-Qaeda leaders in Iran, and they are busy," US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said.

Iranian officials promptly denied charges of helping Al-Qaeda, saying Iran opposed the network and their former Taliban hosts in neighbouring Afghanistan long before the US.

Saeed Pourazizi, a close aide to President Mohammad Khatami, said it was Tehran's policy to crack down on Al-Qaeda.

"If the United States is serious and has any evidence on the presence of Al-Qaeda in Iran, then they should make their evidence available to us, which will help us identify and track down alleged members of the group," he said.
 
Anoush Ehteshami, an international relations professor and director of Middle East and Islamic Studies at Durham University in Britain, said Iran's religious differences with Al-Qaeda make cooperation unlikely.

The US claim "is part of a continued campaign of pressure on Iran ... and it aims at securing concessions from Iran, including non-interference in Iraq and in the Middle East peace process," he said in an interview.