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Iran denies arresting bin Laden's top aide

Ayman al-Zawahiri, left, is seen with Osama bin Laden in a file photograph.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, left, is seen with Osama bin Laden in a file photograph.

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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iran's Foreign Ministry denied Friday that the government has arrested Ayman al-Zawahiri, the right-hand man to terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

The al-Arabiya satellite television network, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, reported al-Zawahiri and al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith were among several al Qaeda suspects Iran had arrested in recent months.

But Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said the report was untrue.

"First of all this is not the case," Asefi said. "The people in question have not yet been identified. Also, there is no reason that even after the identification process is completed that we should discuss this issue with the media because this is a security issue."

U.S. officials believe al-Zawahiri was involved in deadly embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Al-Zawahiri is under indictment in the United States for the conspiracy behind the those attacks. He is also one of the FBI's "Most Wanted" terrorists.

CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen previously has said "Ayman al-Zawahiri is effectively Osama bin Laden's No. 2. He is his closest adviser. They have known each other since 1987."

Even before he met bin Laden in Pakistan in 1987, al-Zawahiri led what the United States and Egypt said was a terrorist group.

Al-Zawahiri, a surgeon, was a medical student from an affluent family in Cairo, Egypt, when he was first arrested and charged with being part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to overthrow then-President Nasser.

When Anwar Sadat was elected as Egypt's president, al-Zawahiri worked to overthrow Sadat and establish an Islamic state, says Dia'a Rashwan, a specialist in Islamic movements.

After Sadat made peace with Israel, members of al-Zawahiri's group -- Islamic Jihad -- assassinated Sadat. In the wake of that assassination, al-Zawahiri was put on trial in 1981 as defendant No. 113, accused of being part of the broader conspiracy against the Egyptian state.

Al-Zawahiri was convicted for his role in the conspiracy and served three years in prison. He surfaced in 1987 in Peshawar, Pakistan, aiding wounded in the fight against Afghanistan's Soviet-backed regime.

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