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Al Qaeda-linked attack thwarted in Egypt

3 arrested in plot against offices, embassy

CAIRO — 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.

Mohammed Ibrahim told a news conference that the men had been in contact with Dawood al-Assady, a leader of Al Qaeda in southeast Asian countries such as Pakistan, and that the group was planning to attack government buildings and a foreign embassy. He did not disclose details.

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Security officials with knowledge of the case said a Western embassy was the target, but did not have more information. They spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The interior minister said authorities seized 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.

The interior minister denied that Al Qaeda is active in Egypt, but said the three men were in contact with Al Qaeda militants abroad.

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 said one of the three men had received instructions from 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 also accused of having contacts with someone who is in charge of receiving suspected terrorists on the Turkish border, but not further details were given.

The interior minister named the suspects as Amr Mohammed Abu al-Ela Aqida, Mohammed Abdel-Halim Hemaida Saleh, and Mohammed Mostafa Mohammed Ibrahim Bayoumi.

Reflecting the deterioration in security, a United States citizen was stabbed outside the heavily fortified US Embassy in Cairo on Friday. Christopher Stone, who works at the American University in Cairo and was recently appointed as the US-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 US Embassy said the perpetrator, who was detained, claimed his motivation was to seek revenge over United States policies in the Middle East. Police believe “the perpetrator acted alone, and the incident was not tied to any larger conspiracy,’’ the embassy said in a statement.

Separately, Egypt’s top prosecutor on Saturday ordered the release of a prominent activist only a day after ordering his arrest pending an investigation related to a protest against the country’s interior minister.

Police officials and Egypt’s state news agency MENA said prosecutors are referring Ahmed Maher to a misdemeanor court on lesser charges.

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