CAIRO (TheBlaze/AP) — Egypt’s interior minister said Saturday that security authorities have arrested three suspected al-Qaeda-linked militants who were planning to carry out suicide attacks on vital installations and an unspecified foreign embassy.
According to the New York Times, a “Western official” said police have “privately” identified that embassy was the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Egyptian diplomats have also reportedly confided in their American counterparts that the U.S. Embassy was the target.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told a news conference that the men had been in contact with Dawood al-Assady, a leader of al-Qaida in Pakistan and other southeast Asian countries, and that the group was planning to attack government buildings and a foreign embassy. He did not disclose details.
The interior minister said authorities seized 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in homemade explosives. Security officials also discovered statements issued by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the group’s arm in North Africa, on one of the men’s computers with information on how to make bombs and rockets, and ways of collecting intelligence.
He said the suspects are also believed to have links with the so-called “Nasr City terror cell,” which was broken up last year and its members arrested on accusations of plotting attacks against public figures in Egypt.
Ibrahim denied that al-Qaeda is active in Egypt, but said the three men were in contact with al-Qaeda militants abroad. He also revealed that the suspects were on the “verge” of carrying out the attack when they were arrested.
Egypt’s security has sharply deteriorated in the past two years, with Islamic militants suspected of being behind cross-border assaults on Israel as well as a bold attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in the northern Sinai Peninsula last year. Ibrahim told reporters that the men were trying to take advantage of the country’s situation to “target innocent civilians and attack foreign diplomatic missions.”
Ibrahim said one of the three men had received instructions from al-Assady to contact two members of the Nasr City terror cell.
He added that one of the men had received combat training by members of al-Qaeda in Iran and Pakistan and also had connections with members of al-Qaeda in Algeria. The group was additionally accused of having contacts with someone who is in charge of receiving suspected terrorists on the Turkish border, but not further details were given. Turkey has borders with Iraq, Syria and Iran.
The interior minister named the suspects as Amr Mohammed Abu al-Ela Aqida, Mohammed Abdel-Halim Hemaida Saleh and Mohammed Mostafa Mohammed Ibrahim Bayoumi. Two of the men were detained in the northern coastal city of Alexandria, while the third was arrested in Cairo.
In other instances of declining security in the country, a U.S. citizen was stabbed in the neck outside the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Friday. Christopher Stone, who works at the American University in Cairo and was recently appointed as the U.S.-based director of the CASA program for intensive Arabic language study “is doing well” and will be released from the hospital soon, the university said in a statement Saturday.
The U.S. Embassy said the perpetrator, who was detained, claimed his motivation was to seek revenge over U.S policies in the Middle East. “The (police) investigation, while still ongoing, has established that the perpetrator acted alone, and the incident was not tied to any larger conspiracy,” the embassy said in a statement.
Additionally, Egypt’s top prosecutor ordered Saturday the release of one of the country’s most prominent activists only a day after ordering his arrest pending an investigation related to a protest against the country’s interior minister.
Ahmed Maher, the founder of the April 6 Youth Movement that was at the forefront of the 2011 revolt that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, was arrested at Cairo airport Friday as he returned from a trip to the United States.
His April 6 group credits itself with helping Morsi win last year’s tight presidential run-offs against a Mubarak-era official that many activists feared would restore the previous regime.
Maher has since said he regrets his group’s support of Morsi and the Brotherhood, and has accused the president of abusing his powers in ways similar to Mubarak.
Maher was among a number of opposition figures who declined to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Cairo earlier this year, saying that Washington’s handling of Egypt’s political turmoil and economic problems is “shallow” and in favor of the Brotherhood.
Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report.