In Brief: Overview of Iran-linked terrorism in Azerbaijan

By | Rachel Brooks

February 17, 2021 

Above: Over the years, Baku has been disrupted by plots from Iran-linked actors to attack its Israel Embassy. Image credit: “Baku, Azerbaijan” by teuchterlad is licensed under CC BY 2.0

With the proximity of Iran to Azerbaijan, the likelihood of Iran’s Khomeinist terrorism to transpire and target citizens in Azerbaijan has always been there. The Iranian regime has a history of on-the-surface good relations with, while quietly resenting the nation for its healthy relationship with Israel. Azerbaijan is the only completely secular Shia Muslim majority nation. It likewise has large demographics of Christians and Jews, putting it at odds with the rigid Khomeinist Persian chauvinism state to its immediate south. 

Haaretz reported a terrorism plot had been planned against the Israel embassy in Baku in May 2008. Azerbaijani authorities linked the plot in 2009 to a suicide truck. Two Lebanese citizens and four Azerbaijanis were arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison for the planned attack, which would have also endangered the Thai and Japanese Embassies. This incident was likewise reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Los Angeles Times. In this incident, hundreds of pounds of explosives were provided by Iran. While arrests were made at the time of this incident, many suspects escaped into Iran. 

An attack on the embassy of Baku that occurred in 2011 was reported by the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center in February 2019. The ESISC described the foiled attack as follows: 

“Foiled attack against the Israeli embassy in Baku: In February 2011, Azerbaijan security services foiled an attack against the Israeli embassy and a Jewish facility in Baku. Twenty-two suspects were arrested and firearms, cartridges, explosives, and espionage devices seized. The investigation proved that some of them have been recruited as far back as 1999 and were active since this year. It was also established that most of the suspects have been trained to use arms and explosives and to some intelligence collection methods in IRGC camps in Iran. 

In 2012, The Atlantic reported that Azerbaijan has thwarted an Iranian plot to kill the 2021-era Israeli Ambassador to the nation. The plot targeted then Ambassador Michael Lotem. Iran subsequently denied the claim, calling it a “show” staged by the United States and Israel, and reprimanded Baku for the role it played in the so-called spectacle. That same year, Baku reported a string of cyberterror attacks that it linked to Iran. 

Repeated offenses against the Israel embassy in Baku have been reported in the years since. The Times of Israel reported an incident in which local authorities jailed the Iranian Hasan Faraji for an alleged plot to bomb the Israeli embassy. This occurred in late October 2013. Faraji was arrested after he failed to cooperate with the questions of a security guard outside of the embassy. He was further suspected of terrorism due to having copies of the Israeli embassy’s blueprints in his house. It was discovered that Faraji had been in contact with high-level Iranian officials of the Quds force. 

Iran continues to be a force of potential risk for Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relationship with Israel and the west, as the nation continues to struggle with post-war development.