Hip-hop mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs was arrested early yesterday after a stolen 9mm handgun was recovered from his vehicle as he was stopped leaving a Manhattan nightclub where a shooting had just occurred, police said. Released late last night after posting $10,000 bail, he asserted his innocence to reporters after his arraignment.

Combs, 30, was a passenger in a sport utility vehicle with his girlfriend, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez, 29, and two others when police pulled them over for reckless driving as they left Club New York in Times Square. The gun--which was in plain sight, according to Sgt. Andrew McInnis, a police spokesman--was confiscated and all four people were taken into custody. The gun later was found to have been stolen in Georgia, McInnis said. No one in the vehicle claimed ownership of the gun.

The police last night charged 19-year-old Jamal Barrow, a rapper known as Shyne who is affiliated with Bad Boy Records and traveled with Combs last summer, with three counts of attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon, according to police spokeswoman Valerie St. Rose. Barrow was arrested outside the nightclub in possession of a 9mm handgun shortly after the shots were fired.

Early yesterday afternoon, after nearly 12 hours of questioning, police charged Combs, Lopez and the two others--driver Wardel Fenderson and bodyguard Anthony Jones--with weapons possession and possession of stolen property. The Manhattan district attorney's office dropped the charges against Lopez a few hours later.

After his release, Combs, who is due back in court on Feb. 14, said, "I do not own a gun. I do not carry a gun. The charges and allegations against me are 100 percent false," the Associated Press reported.

Lopez earlier left through a side door of the building and was hustled into the back seat of a waiting car.

"The district attorney's office has declined to process the charges against [Lopez]," said Detective Vincent Gravelli, a police spokesman.

The shooting occurred about 2:30 a.m., according to police. A woman was shot in the face, and two men were shot in the shoulder. One man refused treatment at the scene. The other two victims were taken to St. Clare's Hospital, where they were in stable condition. Police did not release the victims' names.

Early last night, Club New York was quiet, its tall copper-colored doors closed to visitors. Its entrance on 43rd Street is marked with two small blue signs on both sides of the doorway.

In a statement to MTV News, club owner Michael Bergos said the shooting was a first for his business. No motive has been established.

"We're sorry the incident occurred," he told MTV. "Puff Daddy and Jennifer Lopez have always been great to the club. They have never done anything wrong, and as far as we know, they didn't do anything wrong last night."

The Combs vehicle was pulled over after police saw it leaving the scene. The Lincoln Navigator ran at least one red light, McInnis said. The driver and three passengers were taken to the Midtown North precinct about 3 a.m. and were transferred to Midtown South a few hours later.

This was not Combs's first arrest. A successful rap musician whose entertainment empire includes his own production company, Bad Boy Management, Combs pleaded guilty to harassment this year in connection with an assault on record executive Steven Stoute. He also was arrested in December 1995 and charged with robbery, menacing and criminal possession of a weapon. He was convicted of lesser charges the following summer and fined.

Calls to Bad Boy Records were not returned yesterday. According to Reuters news service, Combs's spokesman Dan Klores told reporters at the police station that the gun did not belong to Combs or Lopez and that the two were "victims of circumstance" who were "fleeing a life-threatening situation."

Once the dominant figure on the hip-hop scene, Combs has seen his popularity wane, though he appears on the cover of the current Vibe magazine under the headline "Puff Daddy: It Will Never Be Over." Much of the recent attention he has garnered is from his high-profile romance with Lopez, who starred in such films as "Selena" and "Out of Sight" with George Clooney, and whose own debut album was released in June.

Combs's Bad Boy Records released "Born Again"--a second posthumous CD by his former partner, Notorious B.I.G.--in early December, and some hip-hop watchers consider the performance of that CD to be crucial to Combs's success. This past summer, his own release, "Forever," showed disappointing sales.

Notorious B.I.G.--also known as Biggie Smalls--was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles in March 1997. That crime is still unsolved. Like the shooting death of rapper Tupac Shakur in 1996, Notorious B.I.G.'s murder is a high-profile example of the violence that has dogged the hip-hop scene even as it has dominated music industry sales charts.

"It's not like it was two, three, four years ago when Tupac was killed and Biggie was killed and there was an awful lot of fretting and an awful lot of soul searching in the [rap] community," said Bill Adler, a former publicist and a longtime industry observer. "Now things have gotten a lot quieter. So if you're a rap music fan and you hear about this, you tend to shrug it off.

"But those people who have always been upset by the very existence of rap, like--I don't know, William Bennett . . . might seize on this as the latest example in a long-standing culture war."

Staff writer Liz Leyden contributed to this story.

CAPTION: Combs was with girlfriend Jennifer Lopez when arrested.

CAPTION: Actress Jennifer Lopez, Combs's girlfriend, was also questioned by police but was released.