Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Azerbaijan Targets Iranian ‘Espionage Network’

Azerbaijan Targets Iranian ‘Espionage Network’

Wednesday, 1 February, 2023 - 09:30
A photo released by the Azerbaijani "Trend" agency of the security forces raiding a site in Baku on Tuesday.

Azerbaijani security forces arrested at least seven people in a raid on the headquarters of a pro-Iranian news website in Baku.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry meanwhile, called on its citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to Iran, days after an attack by armed men on the country’s embassy in Tehran killed a diplomat and wounded two others.

Baku described the attack as an “act of terrorism”. Authorities in Tehran announced the arrest of a person suspected of being linked to the incident, stating that the motives of the gunman appeared to be personal rather than political.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said - in a phone call with his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov - that his country had charged the man with “killing a diplomat and carrying weapons.”

In turn, the Turkish Anadolu agency reported that Azerbaijan has launched a wide campaign against an Iranian “spy network”, noting that the Azerbaijani Ministry of Interior had announced that the widescale operation was underway in Baku and several cities.

In November, Baku announced the arrest of 19 citizens, accusing them of receiving training and financing from Iran to conduct spying operations. Later than month, Azerbaijan announced the arrest of five of its citizens on charges of “espionage” and “subversive activities” in favor of the Iranian intelligence services.

For its part, Tehran announced the arrest of a foreign cell led by an Azerbaijani national, claiming that it was behind a Shiraz shooting that killed 13 people on October 26. ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan warned its citizens against unnecessary travel to Iran, a day after the evacuation of its embassy staff in Tehran.

“Due to the unstable situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the terrorist attack against the diplomatic mission of our country, the citizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan are advised not to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran unless necessary,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its website.

“Those who visit are advised to exercise increased caution,” the ministry added.

Azerbaijan held an official funeral for diplomat Orxan Asgarov, who was responsible for the security of its embassy in Tehran.

Baku said the “temporary” closure of its diplomatic mission did not mean severing relations with Iran.

Following the attack, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, in a strongly-worded statement, that the “anti-Azerbaijan campaign” in Iran incited the attack.

Security officials in the Azerbaijani government revealed that the bloody attack was the fifth assault on the embassy in Tehran in two years, according to Report agency.

Millions of Azeri Turks live in the northwestern provinces of Iran. Tehran has long accused Baku of fueling separatist agendas on its lands. Turkish-speaking Azerbaijan is a close ally of Türkiye, Iran’s historical foe.

The Iranian authorities look with great suspicion at Azerbaijan’s ambitions to establish a corridor that connects Nakhichevan to Türkiye, along the Armenian-Iranian border.

The project would end Azerbaijan’s dependence on Iran to reach the Nakhichevan enclave.

The issue is a major point of contention between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which fought two wars in 2020, and in the 1990s, for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Iran is also apprehensive about the military cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel, which is an important supplier of weapons to Baku. It believes that Tel Aviv may use Azerbaijani territory to act against it.

Azerbaijan appointed its first ambassador to Israel last month, amid rising tensions with Iran.

Editor Picks