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updated 12/29/2010 2:34:05 PM ET 2010-12-29T19:34:05

Iran's state news agency reported Wednesday that security forces have arrested seven people near the border with Iraq and alleged they are al-Qaida suspects.

It was the first report in years in Iran of an al-Qaida arrest, although in the past the country has reported hundreds of such arrests.

IRNA didn't provide further details but said the seven were propagating Wahhabism, an austere version of Sunni Islam practiced primarily in Saudi Arabia.

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There was no indication if those arrested were Iranians or foreigners.

IRNA cited an unnamed source — described as "informed" — as saying the suspects "were identified" over the past month and were subsequently detained in the northwestern town of Sardasht.

Many al-Qaida operatives are believed to have fled to Iran after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001.

In 2003, Iran gave the U.N. Security Council the names of 225 al-Qaida suspects detained after illegally crossing into Iran and who Tehran had returned to their countries — including Arab, European and African countries.

And in 2008, a former Bush administration official, Hillary Mann Leverett, told The Associated Press that Iran had rounded up hundreds of Arabs who had crossed the border from Afghanistan, expelled many of them and made copies of nearly 300 of their passports in an effort to help U.S. counter al-Qaida after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The copies were sent to the then U.N. chief Kofi Annan who passed them on to the United States, while U.S. interrogators were given a chance by Iran to question some of the detainees.

Iran has in recent years been struggling against increasingly emboldened Sunni militant group Jundallah, or Soldiers of God, which is active near Iran's border with Pakistan.

Also, there are Iranian opposition groups that Tehran considers terrorists, such as the armed People's Mujahedeen, which seeks the overthrow of Tehran's clerical rulers and which was based in Iraq.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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