Details of a plot to bomb the Israeli embassy in Baku, the capital of the small Muslim country Azerbaijan, almost a year ago, were revealed as two Hizbullah terrorists went on trial for the attempt last week. Local police narrowly averted the potential disaster, according to a report published Saturday in the Los Angeles Times.
Azerbaijan is a moderate Muslim country bordering Iran to the south. It has strong ties with its Persian neighbor, but at the same time maintains a good relationship with Israel and the U.S.
Hizbullah terrorists planned the embassy bombing in retaliation for the 2008 assassination in Damascus of the group’s second in command, Imad Mughniyah, which the Lebanese terrorist group blamed on Israel. Local anti-terrorist forces stopped the plot only weeks before the suspects planned on carrying out the bombing.
"They had reached the stage where they had a network in place to do an operation," an Israeli security official told the Times, "We are seeing it all over the world. They are working very hard at it."
Security forces in Azerbaijan identified the plot when they detected contact between local terrorists and two Hizbullah operatives, Ali Karaki and Ali Najem Aladine. The two allegedly traveled back and forth between Baku, Iran, and Lebanon in 2008 using Iranian passports.
The planned bombing targeted the Israeli embassy in Baku, which is located in the Hyatt Tower high rise along with the Thai and Japanese embassies. The terrorists planned on placing three or four car bombs around the complex, and had hundreds of kilograms of explosives with which to carry out the attack.
The terror cell realized it was under surveillance in May 2008. Police moved in to make arrests, but not before several Lebanese, Iranian, and Azerbainjani accomplices escaped to Iran by car. Karaki and Aladine were caught fleeing in a vehicle containing explosives, binoculars, cameras, pistols with silencers, and reconnaissance photos.
Officials say Iran was involved in the plan as well. "The Iranians have a history of presence there," Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. intelligence chief told the Times. "They wouldn’t mind undermining the country, given Azerbainjan’s Western leanings."
At preliminary trial hearings last week, charges against the suspects included maintaining ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a force that reportedly works closely with Hizbullah. Four Azerbainjani citizens have also been charged with aiding the attempted bombing.