In early April, I wrote that the senior U.S. officials who told Mark Perry of Foreign Policy that Azerbaijan agreed to let Israeli aircraft land in its territory could have blood on their hands, since regardless of whether the leaked story was true or not, Iran would send a warning shot towards Azerbaijan.
Only days after the story was published, Azerbaijan arrested 17 Al-Qaeda operatives with links to Iran as they were about to carry out terrorist attacks. One Azeri officer was killed and three were wounded during the sweep.
Mark Perry’s article was published on March 28. On April 6, Azerbaijan announced the arrests and said that the Al-Qaeda terrorists were planning to attack police, mosques and shrines. Some had undergone two months of training in Iran and were armed there. Others were indoctrinated in Syria and still others had been trained in Pakistan and had fought NATO troops in Afghanistan. Already in February, European officials warned that Iran and Al-Qaeda were tightening their relationship in order to carry out attacks on common enemies.
Although it can’t be proven that Iran had a direct role in the Al-Qaeda plot, the timing points to it. We know that in January, Iran paid at least two terrorists $150,000 to attack the Israeli ambassador, a rabbi and a teacher at a Jewish school in Azerbaijan. The cell leader met with Iranian intelligence. In March, Azerbaijan rounded up 22 terrorists that were trained near Tehran by the Revolutionary Guards to carry out a wave of terror attacks that were to include the U.S. and Israeli embassies, among other targets. Iranian hackers struck Azeri websites after the arrests.