Azeri-Iranian prisoner trade draws fire

Trade said to include two men convicted in plot to bomb Israel’s Baku embassy.

Azerbaijan has released to Iran two Lebanese citizens convicted of plotting an attack on the Israeli embassy in the capital of Baku, a major Azeri media outlet reported last week.
Trend, one of the largest news agencies in Central Asia, published an article quoting an Azerbaijan Justice Ministry spokesman as saying that on August 8, Najmeddin Ali Hussein and Keraki Ali Muhammad were sent to Iran by air.
The two Lebanese nationals were arrested in 2008, and following a trial in 2009, they were sentenced to 15 years in the Gobustan prison for terrorism, espionage and weapons charges.
According to Trend, another 12 Iranians, including one woman, were released from Azerbaijan the same day. All of the 12 were serving time for smuggling or drug charges.
The article also stated that Azeri scholar Rashid Aliyev was released from an Iranian prison on August 12 and returned to Baku.
The two Lebanese men were arrested along with four Azeri citizens, the report said, adding that investigators had determined they were planning to detonate three or four simultaneous car bombs around the Israeli embassy in Baku.
According to reports published in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat in May 2009, Azeri officials have accused Iran and Hizbullah of ordering the attack to avenge the February 2008 assassination of senior Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus.
Hizbullah has long blamed Israel for Mughniyeh’s death.
In May 2009, an Israeli defense official told The Jerusalem Post that the plot was part of a wider effort by Iran to destabilize moderate Muslim states. The official drew a link between Iranian-backed Hizbullah terror missions and Iranian efforts to destabilize Muslim countries that were deemed too moderate.
“There is Iranian involvement in all of the states that border Iran. As far as the Iranians are concerned, moderate Muslim states should be targeted for Islamic revolution,” the official said. He stressed that Iran’s efforts to destabilize Azerbaijan were similar to its attempts to subvert Egypt.
Azerbaijan maintains diplomatic and economic ties with Israel, but is also closely linked to Iran, with which it shares a long border and ancient cultural, ethnic and linguistic ties. Azeris are Iran’s largest minority at over a quarter of the population, and count among their ranks Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.