Authorities have foiled a plan to assassinate Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on April 28, the date of the next session of national dialogue talks between the country’s top rival political leaders, As Safir newspaper said Monday.
While judicial sources denied the reported assassination plot, a military spokesman said it was in "the phase of intentions" and had not reached "the phase of implementation."
As Safir quoted security sources as saying that army intelligence last week arrested nine suspects including Lebanese and Palestinians who have been tracking Nasrallah’s movements over the last month and a half in order to assassinate him.
"Army intelligence was able to thwart a plot that was scheduled to be implemented on the day of the next session of (national) dialogue talks and has arrested the highly-trained members of the network who are Lebanese and Palestinian," the sources said.
Agence France Presses said judicial sources confirmed the arrests but denied that the suspects had been plotting to kill Nasrallah. They said As Safir’s report was "exaggerated."
However, military spokesman Brig. Saleh Suleiman told The Associated Press the intended plot had not yet been put into implementation. He said that the detainees, some of whom are related, would be handed over to a military prosecutor on Tuesday for further questioning and indictment.
AFP said the suspects have already been charged with "attempting to carry out actions aimed at undermining the government’s authority and its dignity" and with arms possession.
The newspaper said its sources described the suspects as "a group of organized, professional and well-trained individuals who deal with security issues."
Nasrallah is one of 14 political leaders who have been holding regular meetings at the Parliament building in downtown Beirut to discuss fateful issues currently facing the country.
The Hizbullah leader, like all other major Lebanese politicians, normally keeps his movements secret for fear of attacks on his life. However, the time of the dialogue talks are announced well ahead of schedule.
The suspects have allegedly been tracking Nasrallah’s movements since the beginning of March that coincides with the opening of the meeting in the heart of the capital.
The assailants were equipped with LAW anti-tank missiles that would be able to penetrate the Hizbullah chief’s armored vehicle, As Safir’s sources said.
They said authorities also seized a weapons cache which includes B-7 rocket launchers, pump action shotguns, hand grenades, AK-47 automatic rifles, revolvers, silencers, computers and CDs. They did not say where the arms depot was found.
They said police arrested the ring members after they were observed acting suspiciously near Nasrallah’s headquarters in Haret Hreik in the southern suburbs.
Authorities are still searching for other possible suspects and attempting to identify the party or country that has financed, trained and equipped the network.
Suleiman told the AP that some of As-Safir’s details were true, "but others are not so accurate." He would not elaborate
For the past 18 months, Lebanon has been plagued with a series of attacks against prominent figures that have shaken the country’s stability. The most notable bombing was the one against ex-premier Rafik Hariri that killed him and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005.
So far, most attacks have targeted politicians and journalists opposed to Syria, that withdrew its forces from Lebanon after international outcry and mass demonstrations in Beirut over the Hariri murder.
The reported plot against Nasrallah would be the first attempt on a Syrian ally during this same period.
Beirut, Updated 10 Apr 06