Egypt's interior minister has said that authorities have arrested three al-Qaeda-linked men suspected of planning to carry out suicide attacks on government buildings and an unspecified foreign embassy.

Mohammed Ibrahim on Saturday 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.

He told a news conference that the men, one of whom received training in Pakistan and Iran, had been in contact with Dawood al-Assady, a leader of al-Qaeda in southeast Asian countries.

Ibrahim also said authorities captured the suspects with 10 kg of ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser and key ingredient in homemade explosives, and computer instructions on bomb-making.

He told reporters that the men were trying to take advantage of the country's political turmoil to "target innocent civilians and attack foreign diplomatic missions".

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 members abroad. 

Egypt's security has sharply deteriorated in the past two years, with Islamist fighters 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.

Source: Agencies