Azerbaijani MPs blamed Iran on Wednesday for the attempted assassination of a member of the Azerbaijani parliament in Baku on Tuesday night, amid heightened tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran and concerns of a renewal of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
On Tuesday night, Azerbaijani MP Fazil Mustafa was shot outside his home in Baku by an assailant carrying a Kalashnikov rifle. As of Wednesday afternoon, he was hospitalized in stable condition and there was no immediate threat to his life.
Azerbaijan's State Security Service announced on Wednesday that the assault was a "terrorist attack" and that it was conducting operations to identify the assailant and other suspects in the attack.
On Wednesday afternoon, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev instructed the country's security services to carry out "urgent operational and investigative measures" to identify and arrest the individuals responsible for the attack.
Azerbaijani MPs blame Iran for attempted assassination
While Azerbaijani defense officials have not pointed blame at any specific group or country, Azerbaijani MPs and media outlets were quick to blame Iran for the attack.
Mashhur Mammadov, an MP from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, told the Turan news outlet that the attempted assassination was "a step taken by foreign forces to undermine the stability and reforms carried out in the country."
Mammadov noted that the assault took place during a visit by Azerbaijan's foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, to Israel for the opening of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Israel.
"Everyone knows that along with Armenia there is another state that is capable of provocation against Azerbaijan and openly declares this - it is Iran," added the MP.
Zahid Oruj, the chairman of the Azerbaijani parliament's Committee for Human Rights, told Turan that the individuals behind the attack "are trying to ensure that Azerbaijan takes the path of confrontation with various states and abandons the policy of balance. They want us to take sides, join different blocs. If the external traces of this terror are proved, then the relations with this state should be determined by the results of the investigation."
The Azerbaijani Trend news agency also published an analysis connecting the attempted assassination to Iran, noting the opening of the country's embassy in Israel and the fact that Mustafa was known for his anti-Iranian rhetoric.
On Tuesday, Ali Nagiyev, the chief of Azerbaijan's State Security Service, stated that "intelligence-subversion and sabotage activities" of neighboring states are being thwarted by Azerbaijani authorities.
Tensions continue to rise between Azerbaijan and Iran
Tensions have risen between Azerbaijan and Iran in the past year in light of a number of issues, including efforts by Azerbaijan to create a corridor through Armenia to an exclave belonging to Azerbaijan, claims that Israeli intelligence is operating against Iran from Azerbaijan and op-eds by Azerbaijani newspapers encouraging the West Azerbaijan province of Iran to secede and join Azerbaijan.
In November, the Azerbaijani State Security Service announced that an Iranian spy network was discovered operating in Azerbaijan.
Asgarov Zahir Fakhraddin, a ship captain with the Caspian Shipping Company, was charged with treason for working with the Iranian special service in exchange for financial compensation.
Another Azerbaijani named Rasulov Elnur Akif was also accused of conducting espionage operations for the Iranian special service, along with a relative named Rasulov Arif Amrah, in exchange for payments. The two sent photos and videos of oil and gas infrastructure, areas where drones and tanks are kept, anti-aircraft missile complexes and radar devices to Iranian agents through WhatsApp messages, according to the Azerbaijani agency.
Another Azerbaijani named Aghazade Bakhtiyar Rafiq was also accused of collecting information for Iran about representative offices of foreign countries in Azerbaijan, about the socio-political processes in the country and about military units.
The announcement concerning that network came just two weeks after the security service said it had found an illegal armed group operating in the country for Iran's intelligence services.
In January, a gunman shot dead a security guard and wounded two other people at Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran, in an attack Baku branded an "act of terrorism" that it said was the result of Tehran failing to heed its calls for improved security.
Police in Tehran said they had arrested a suspect and Iranian authorities condemned the incident, but said the gunman appeared to have had a personal, not a political motive.
The attack was carried out with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, according to Azerbaijan's foreign ministry. A grey-haired man identified as the attacker was later shown on Iranian state TV saying he had acted to secure the release of his Azeri wife who he believed was being held at the embassy.
Last week, the commander of the ground forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Muhammad Pakpour, visited forces near the border between Iran and Azerbaijan.
Concerns of escalation between Azerbaijan and Armenia
In recent weeks, Azerbaijan has advanced forces past the line of contact and taken control of a number of new areas. A spike in exchanges of fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan has also been reported in recent weeks.
The Russian Defense Ministry warned on Saturday that Azerbaijani forces had seized a height in the Shusha area, adding that Russian peacekeepers were taking steps to prevent an escalation and calling on Azerbaijan to withdraw behind the line of contact.
In recent months, concerns have risen that Azerbaijan may try to create a corridor called the Zangezur Corridor between Azerbaijan and an exclave controlled by Azerbaijan called Nakhchivan. The two regions are split by Armenian territory which connects Armenia to Iran.
The move has sparked concerns from both Armenia and Iran as it would cut off the link between Iran and Armenia.
For months, Azerbaijani individuals have blocked the Lachin corridor in the Nagorno-Karabakh region for months, with Armenian officials warning of a humanitarian crisis caused by the blockade.
Azerbaijan claims that the people blocking the road are "ecologists and activists" protesting against the mining of mineral deposits in the area. The de-facto Artsakh Republic has said that it has halted mining work in the area and had been operating according to international standards.