Iran and Hezbollah were behind a plot to attack the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan a year ago, according to a report published on Saturday in the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper said the trial in Baku began last week of two Lebanese and four Azerbaijanis on charges of terrorism, espionage and other offenses.
In the year following the attack, prosecutors as well as the Azerbaijani and Israeli authorities implemented a complete media blackout on the case.
The Azerbaijani investigation concluded that the suspects intended to lay three or four car bombs around the embassy and detonate them simultaneously. Officials said the group had hundreds of pounds of explosives, allegedly supplied by Iranian spies, and intended to accumulate more. Israeli sources said the plotters also planned to kidnap the Israeli ambassador in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which shares a long border with Iran.
The Lebanese suspects on trial are Ali Karaki, described by anti-terrorism officials as a veteran of Hezbollah's external operations unit, and Ali Najem Aladine, described as a low-ranking explosives expert. The cell allegedly conducted reconnaissance on the embassy, located in the Hyatt Tower complex, which also houses the Thai and Japanese embassies.
The newspaper said police and security services intercepted a fleeing car and captured two suspected Hezbollah militants from Lebanon. The vehicle contained explosives, binoculars, cameras, firearms and reconnaissance photos.
After raiding alleged safe houses, police foiled what they called a plan to blow up the Israeli embassy in the former Soviet republic. Police said the attack may have been planned to avenge the assassination of senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh, killed in Damascus in February 2008 in a bombing the militant group attributed to Israel.
"They had reached the stage where they had a network in place to do an operation," an anonymous Israeli security official told the paper, referring to Hezbollah and Iran. "We are seeing it all over the world. They are working very hard at it."
Azerbaijan is a moderate Muslim nation of 8 million people, and has close ties to Israel. However, Baku also has close diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, and the border between them is open in a number of locations. Roughly one-third of Iranians are of Azeri ethnicity, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.