updated 3/31/2004 8:30:59 PM ET 2004-04-01T01:30:59

Sudan arrested 18 military officers and opposition members, including the former Islamic fundamentalist Hassan Turabi, for planning to stage a coup, the defense minister said Wednesday.

Turabi, who once called the United States “the incarnation of the devil” and said he regarded Osama bin Laden as a hero, was taken into custody before dawn at his home in Khartoum.

Bakri Hassan Salih said state security discovered the group was planning “acts of subversion on a number of strategic and service establishments.”

“The group was planning to carry out its plot in the coming few days, as a pre-emptive move to abort the current peace process in the country,” Salih said on state-run television.

Salih said the officers, led by a colonel, had been planning the coup since the middle of last year, assisted by the opposition Popular Congress, whose leader was arrested earlier Wednesday.

'Regionalism and tribalism'
“The concerned bodies are currently conducting investigations, and when completed those found guilty will be brought to justice,” Salih said.

Communications Minister El-Zahawi Ibrahim Malik said Turabi was arrested because he had issued a provocative statement in which he had advocated “regionalism and tribalism.”

Turabi’s wife, Wisal el-Mahdi, accused the government of using the alleged coup plot as a pretext “to oppress our party.”

On Monday, Turabi’s party said in a statement that Sudanese police had arrested several party leaders and army officers in connection with an alleged plot by soldiers, police and security officials from Sudan’s restive Western Darfur province to oust President Omar el-Bashir.

Turabi’s Popular Congress party denies involvement in such a plot or in the rebellion in Darfur, where armed rebels have been fighting government troops since May, leaving thousands dead and forcing tens of thousands to flee.

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