Pakistan has arrested up to 10 al Qaeda suspects, including two Egyptians, suspected of planning major suicide attacks against the government and the U.S. Embassy this month, cabinet ministers said Saturday.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that up to six people had been arrested over a period of about a week, in advance of attacks that were planned for Aug. 13, the eve of Pakistani Independence Day. He said group members were found with rockets, grenades, rifles and explosives.
Their targets, Ahmed said, included the presidency, the military residence of President Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. Embassy, the office of the chief minister of Punjab province and the national convention center. The targets are all in the capital, Islamabad, or in nearby Rawalpindi.
Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said "eight to 10" people were being held, including two Egyptians, whom he identified as Qari Ismail and Sheikh Essa, both suspected of being "key elements" of the group.
Hayat said the plots bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. "We have obtained valuable information from the foreigners. . . . We have unearthed a big and sinister plan," he said.
Hayat said the men were found with "the latest gadgetry and equipment."
The arrests follow a crackdown launched since the arrest last month of an alleged al Qaeda computer expert, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, in Pakistan. Security officials say Noor Khan has proved a key source of information on the identity of operatives from the organization. Ahmed said, however, that the latest arrests were not connected to that of Noor Khan.
Suspected al Qaeda militants tried twice in December to kill Musharraf, a key ally of Washington's global war on terrorism. Last month, a suicide bomber killed himself and eight others in an attempt on the life of Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz, who is soon to become prime minister.