BEIRUT -- Military intelligence has arrested a group of terrorists who planned to assassinate the leader of the Hezbollah militant group, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, a senior Lebanese military official said yesterday.
The plot was ''in the phase of intentions" and had not reached ''the phase of implementation," said the Lebanese official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He told The Associated Press that nine Lebanese and Palestinian suspects were detained and would be handed over to a military prosecutor today for more questioning and indictment.
The daily newspaper As-Safir reported yesterday that military intelligence had arrested the plotters last week after they were seen acting suspiciously near Hezbollah's headquarters in the southern Beirut district of Haret Horeik. Authorities were looking for more members of the plot, the paper said.
The military official told the AP that some of As-Safir's details were true, ''but others are not so accurate." He would not elaborate.
Nasrallah's political adviser, Hussein Khalil, confirmed the assassination plot and arrests.
The foiled attack on one of Lebanon's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric and politician came as fears of sectarian strife have rippled through the Middle East.
Last week, Arab diplomats said intelligence officers from Iraq's mostly Sunni Muslim neighbors have been meeting secretly to coordinate their governments' strategies in case a religious civil war erupts in Iraq.
And on Saturday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak all but blamed Shi'ites of being disloyal to their states and following orders from Iran, the only country with a Shi'ite leadership.
''Definitely Iran has influence on Shi'ites. Shi'ites are 65 percent of the Iraqis . . . Most of the Shi'ites are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in," said Mubarak in an interview broadcast by Al Arabiya satellite TV station.
Mubarak's comments have drawn fire from Shi'ites across the region.
Hezbollah, which the United States and the European Union brand as a terrorist group, is a major political force in Lebanon with 11 legislators in the 128-seat Lebanese Parliament and two ministers in the 24-member Cabinet.
The group credits itself with liberating south Lebanon from Israeli troops.
The As-Safir newspaper said the terrorists plotting against Hezbollah's chief had planned to fire armor-piercing rockets at Nasrallah's car when he traveled to central Beirut for the next session of the national dialogue among Lebanon's faction leaders.