A man identified as the leader of suspected mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea this week has appeared on television there, amid government claims of a planned coup.

The alleged leader of the 15 in custody was identified as Nick du Toit. He told the television audience in Equatorial Guinea that the group had planned to kidnap President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and force him into exile.

Mr. du Toit was quoted as saying the mercenaries had planned to send President Obiang to Spain and install opposition leader Severo Moto as the new president of Equatorial Guinea, the third largest oil-producing nation in West Africa. Mr. Moto lives in Spain, which is Equatorial Guinea's former colonial ruler.

President Obiang says a crackdown on foreigners over the weekend helped uncover the alleged coup plot.

A U.S. diplomat in West Africa confirmed that the alleged mercenary appeared on television, but could not confirm the identity of the man. The diplomat said Equatorial Guinea has been a rumor mill since news of the alleged coup attempt began circulating.

For the first time on Wednesday, Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister Kembi Mohadi supported President Obiang's allegations of a coup attempt. Minister Mohadi said in Harare that 64 people detained there on Monday were on their way to Equatorial Guinea to participate in the alleged coup plan.

But an executive of the firm that owns the plane the men were using in Zimbabwe says the men are security guards who were heading to mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

President Obiang has called on the Spanish government to send opposition leader Moto back to Equatorial Guinea to face charges. Mr. Moto denies playing any role in the alleged plot.

Another opposition leader, Bakale Celestino, told a Spanish newspaper that President Obiang invented the coup attempt in order to increase security in the country before elections scheduled for April 15.