Report: Iran sought to strike Jewish, U.S. targets in Azerbaijan
Plot linked to Iran was part of shadow war between Iran and West, unnamed officials tell Washington Post; Iran apparently suspended attempts ahead of current round of nuclear talks with six world powers.
Iran has been implicated in a foiled plot to attack foreign and Jewish targets in Azerbaijan, according to a report published by the Washington Post on Monday.
The report quotes unnamed "U.S. and Middle Eastern security officials" who cited a six-page official report containing details of the investigation. Among the targets of the plot were foreign diplomats and businesses, as well a Jewish elementary school and other targets associated with the local Jewish community.
According to the report, the plot came to light when Balagardash Dashdev, an Azerbaijani man with a criminal background, was revealed to be coordinated shipments of explosives, weapons and cash from inside Iran.
The weapons were smuggled into the country late last year, along with 10 Iranian nationals suspected of being recruited to carry out the attacks, the officials told the Post.
In March, Azerbaijani officials confirmed that they had arrested some two dozen people on suspicion of spying for Iran and possessing illegal weaponsin connection with the plot.
Dashdev, the alleged leader of the plot, told investigators that the attacks were meant in revenge for the deaths of the Iranian nuclear scientists, which Iran blamed on the U.S. and Israel.
The Post report noted that it was unclear if the moves had been ordered directly by the Iranian government or indirectly through groups such as Hezbollah. A senior U.S. official said it was "possible" that Iran and Hezbollah had collaborated on the attempts, but added, "This conclusion is not definitive."
The report also noted that attempts to coordinate attacks were suspected in early spring, around the time when Iran formally accepted an invitation to negotiate with six world powers. “There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to calm things down ahead of the talks,” a Western diplomat told the Post.
According to the report, U.S. officials and Middle East experts view the incidents as part of an ongoing shadow war, in which several Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated and the country's nuclear sites have been targeted by cyberattacks and Israeli targets have been attacked in places such as New Delhi.
Iran has denied involvement in any of the plots, issuing a statement saying, “We believe that the glorious people of Azerbaijan understand that this part of the script of Iranophobia and Islamophobia is organized by the Zionists and the United States.”