updated 9/21/2004 7:12:22 PM ET 2004-09-21T23:12:22

Italian and Lebanese authorities have arrested 10 alleged terrorists, thwarting plans to blow up the Italian Embassy in Beirut in a car bomb attack, an Italian news agency and the Defense Ministry in Rome said Tuesday.

Plans for the attack were in an advanced phase, news agency ANSA said. Police also seized about 220 pounds of explosives, ANSA said, citing unspecified Lebanese and Italian sources.

Defense Minister Antonio Martino issued a statement to thank the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI, for the "brilliant operation carried out in Lebanon." It also thanked Lebanese and Syrian secret services for their cooperation.

The statement offered no details on the operation. A Defense Ministry spokesman declined to comment.

A Lebanese Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Associated Press in Beirut that he had heard the report but had no information. Lebanese security officials could not be reached late Tuesday for comment.

According to ANSA, the arrests were carried out in Lebanon. It didn't say when.

The suspects, whose nationalities were not immediately clear, were alleged to be members of a Lebanese cell of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, an extremist organization believed to have ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, ANSA said.

Among those arrested, ANSA said, was a Lebanese man suspected to have had a role in an attack on a McDonald's restaurant in Beirut in April 2003, as well as in other attacks on U.S. and British interests in the country last year.

ANSA said the attack on the Italian Embassy, which is in central Beirut, was to be the first in a serious of strikes planned by the suspects against Western interests in Lebanon, including the U.S. Embassy.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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