Azerbaijan claims it has again caught some Iranian-sponsored terrorists, but is proving tight-lipped about the details.
On February 21, the country’s state-run AzTV reported that a terrorist cell allegedly operated by Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had been busted.
Stashing guns and explosives, the group allegedly planned attacks on “foreign nationals.” The report did not specify the nationality of the foreigners, letting the outside world put two and two together.
Speaking to EurasiaNet.org, a spokesperson for Azerbaijan's Ministry of National Security refused either to confirm or to deny the station's report.
Strangely, pro-government and state-run news sites have proven similarly skittish about delving into the AzTV report; no news about the arrests could be found on any of these websites on the morning of February 22.
The pro-government APA news agency, however, reported fresh details today about this latest alleged Iranian covert operation. The alleged group had two ringleaders – "Hamid" for the Revolutionary Guards, and "Haji Abbas" for an armed wing of Hezbollah, Mugavimat – supposedly reflecting the collaborative effort between the two groups, APA reported. Although no direct link has been made officially to the news of the supposed group's alleged activities, Azerbaijan has seen a flurry of arrests in the past few days from the village of Nardaran, a conservative Islamic hamlet just shy of the capital, Baku. “Most of these people are our relatives and friends,” a village elder told APA news agency. Police also arrested a local freelance reporter for Iranian broadcast media and his driver, prompting Tehran to fire off another diplomatic note to Baku.
Earlier on, Baku received another formal rebuke from Tehran for allegedly allowing Israeli intelligence agents and assassins to cook up plots against Iranian nuclear scientists from Azerbaijan. Baku angrily denied the claims.
President Ilham Aliyev’s administration, though, appears to be treading carefully. On Monday, it tried to play down the notion that trouble is brewing between the two majority Shi'ite Muslim countries. “There are people who are trying to create tensions," broadly observed Ali Hasanov, the influential head of the administration's political and public policy department, on February 20. "This is of no benefit either for Iran or for Azerbaijan."