ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Security forces hunted for more terror suspects, officials said Sunday, as Pakistan revealed it has arrested a dozen al-Qaida-linked militants planning to launch simultaneous suicide attacks on government leaders and the U.S. Embassy.

Officials said the plot could have killed hundreds of people, underscoring the deadly stakes in President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s aggressive push to defeat violent extremists enraged by his support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

“We have infiltrated their network, and that is why we have made these arrests,” Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat told The Associated Press. “They wanted to destabilize Pakistan, they wanted to create unrest and they wanted to weaken this government.”

Pakistan announced previously that it had cracked a plot at home to sabotage its Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 14, but details were not revealed until this weekend.

Officials said 11 or 12 people, mostly Pakistanis, were arrested in the cities of Islamabad, Hyderabad and Lahore between Aug. 10-15. Hayyat said they were linked to al-Qaida and wanted to kill “important personalities” including Musharraf and government ministers.

Security agencies seized a huge cache of arms and ammunition, including dozens of bombs, grenades, rocket launchers and detonators and electronic surveillance devices. They also found belts used to strap explosives to a suicide attacker’s body.

Musharraf, who abandoned Pakistan’s support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks narrowly escaped two bombings just 10 days apart in December 2003 that left 17 people dead.

He has since stepped up the fight against terrorists, and over the past five weeks Pakistan says it has captured more than 60 suspects, including some key al-Qaida operatives.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters Sunday that authorities were hunting for four more suspects, including one man who had brought weapons for use in the attack from Afghanistan.

Hayyat implicated Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the head of a religious school in Islamabad, in the plot, saying his car was used to transport weapons to a house.

in an upscale neighborhood of Rawalpindi that would have been the base for the attack.

Ghazi remains at large, and supporters, who say he is innocent, have staged street protests to protest raids on seminaries seeking his arrest.



Associated Press reporters Munir Ahmad and Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

AP-ES-08-22-04 1734EDT



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