But Kharazi has insisted that any extraditions will only be according to the Islamic republic's "national interests".

"The very fact that we are detaining al-Qaida members in our prisons and that we are preventing them from having any contact with the outside world is in itself a useful act in the struggle against terrorism," Kharazi said on Saturday.

"Saudi Arabia and other countries know full well that the detention of these people is an important action," Kharazi said, when asked about talks here this week with Saudi Justice Minister Abd Allah Muhammad Ibrahim al-Shaikh.

When asked about potential extraditions, Kharazi only said "any country acts in accordance to its own national interests and cooperates with other countries based on that framework".

In 2003, Iran confirmed it was holding senior members from Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida network, but has refused to identify them. The government has said the detainees may stand trial in Iran.

Guessing identities

The identity of those still being held has been the subject of intense speculation.

Diplomatic sources and Arab press reports have pointed to the possible presence in Iran of the movement's spokesman Sulaiman Abu Gaith and its number three, Saif al-Adil, as well as bin Ladin's son and heir to the network, Saad.
 
The United States, however, has accused Iran of harbouring and not arresting members of the network, and in February Spain's top anti-terrorist judge Baltasar Garzon alleged al-Qaida had a "board of managers" operating in Iran.

Iran, which was hostile to Afghanistan's Taliban and al-Qaida, has fiercely denied the allegations it is supporting the group.

The government has also responded by criticising a failure by US troops in Iraq to crack down on the People's Mujahidin, the main Iranian armed opposition which Washington itself has termed a terrorist organisation.