The Washington Post, citing unidentified Arab intelligence sources, reports Iran is sheltering two key members of the al-Qaida terrorist network, along with dozens of fighters.
The newspaper says one of the two key al-Qaida figures is Egyptian Saif al-Adel, who is on the (U-S) F-B-I's most-wanted list. The other is Mahfouz Ould Walid - a Mauritanian, who U-S officials reported had been killed in eastern Afghanistan in January.
The two men are said to have assumed operational control of al-Qaida's military and ideological committees, after Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri, went into hiding.
According to the Washington Post report, the idea for the transfer of power arose after the September 11 attacks in the United States, when it became apparent Washington might attack Afghanistan and capture or kill some senior al Qaida members. The report says the need to put the transfer into practice became even more apparent in March, when senior al-Qaida planner Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian, was captured in Pakistan.
The al-Qaida members are said to be staying in hotels and guesthouses in the Iranian border cities of Mashhad and Zabol.
The Washington Post says the Arab intelligence sources, cited in its report, are outside Saudi Arabia and they do not want to disclose their names or countries.