Iran confirmed Thursday that a daughter of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has turned up at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, but said it does not know how she entered the country.
A Saudi newspaper reported Wednesday that Bin Laden's 17-year-old daughter, Eman, went to the embassy after eluding guards in Iran who have held her, her sister and four brothers under house arrest for eight years.
It has long been believed that Iran has held in custody a number of bin Laden's children since they fled Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion of that country in 2001 — most notably Saad and Hamza bin Laden, who are thought to have held positions in al-Qaida.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on a TV talk show Thursday that Iran had no idea Eman was in the country until it heard from the embassy that she was there.
Mottaki said if Iranian authorities are able to confirm her identity she would be free to leave Iran.
"Some time ago, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia informed us that one of the daughters of Bin Laden is in the embassy," Mottaki said. "We don't know how this person went to the embassy or how she entered the country."
Mottaki made no mention of the other Bin Laden children and he was not asked on the TV program whether Iran was holding them.
Osama bin Laden reportedly has 19 children by several wives. He took at least one of his wives and their children with him to Afghanistan in the late 1990s after he was thrown out of his previous refuge, Sudan. They fled when the U.S.-led war erupted, including the group that tried to escape through Iran.
This year, U.S. officials said Saad bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader's eldest son, may have been killed by a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan, where they said he may have fled after being freed from Iran, but they could not confirm the information.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Thursday, Omar bin Laden, another son who lives abroad, appealed to the Iranian government to let his family there be reunited with their relatives in Saudi Arabia, Syria or Qatar. He said the Iranian government took good care of his family, providing them with all their needs and keeping them in a walled compound for protection.
He said the bin Laden children known to remain in the compound were sons Mohammed, Hamza, Othman and Bakr and daughter Fatima. Also there are 25 other relatives, including their spouses and their children.
Omar bin Laden said in his e-mail that 29-year-old Saad left the compound less than a year ago and his whereabouts is unknown.
Most of the al-Qaida leader's children, like Omar, live as legitimate businessmen. The extended bin Laden family, one of the wealthiest in Saudi Arabia, disowned Osama in 1994 when Saudi Arabia stripped him of his citizenship because of his militant activities.
Osama bin Laden's billionaire father, Mohammed, who died in 1967, had more than 50 children and founded the Binladen Group, a construction conglomerate that gets many major building contracts in the kingdom.