US, British embassies recieve terror threat
BAKU, Azerbaijan – A group of militant Islamists planned to attack the U.S. Embassy and other government buildings in Azerbaijan with stolen military grenades and assault rifles but were thwarted by security forces, officials said Monday.The National Security Ministry said the group had planned a “large-scale, horrifying terror attack” but did not provide details or say if any other weapons had been involved. It described the plotters as adherents of the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam, which counts Osama bin Laden and many al-Qaida members among its adherents.Other Azeri officials said they were pursuing an army lieutenant who had taken the weapons before deserting.The State Department said that it had closed its embassy in Baku, the capital of this oil-rich, largely Shiite Muslim nation on the Caspian Sea, but would likely reopen it soon after tightening security.Britain’s Foreign Office said that its embassy in Azerbaijan also temporarily suspended services due to what it called “local security concerns,” and was likely to remain closed to the public Tuesday.Several companies that share a building with the embassy also closed, among them Norway’s StatoilHydro ASA and BP Azerbaijan, according to a receptionist in the building who did not give her name because she wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.”There was some specific and credible threat information concerning the embassy and plans by militants to in some way do harm to the individuals in or around the U.S. Embassy there, but we have worked very well with the Government of Azerbaijan,” said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman. “Now, I think that they have ongoing law enforcement operations designed to address the source of the threat.”The Azeri security ministry said security forces arrested several members of the militant group in a sweep Saturday in the village of Mastaga, about 20 miles northeast of Baku. One member of the group fought arrest and was killed, the ministry said.It said it had recovered some of the weapons stolen by army Lt. Kamran Asadov, who took 20 hand grenades, a machine gun, four assault rifles and ammunition from his unit for the attack.”That prevented a large-scale, horrifying terror attack that was being prepared by members of this group against several state structures in Baku and embassies and missions of the countries which are members of the international anti-terror coalition,” the ministry said, adding that other members of the group were being sought.Rafiq Aliyev, the head of the Center for Islamic Studies in Baku, told The Associated Press that Wahhabi groups in Azerbaijan could become more active in the run-up to a presidential vote in the fall of 2008.”Such groups serve as a tool for outside forces which want to disrupt stability,” he said.But Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, the head of the Center for Protection of Freedom of Conscience, an Azeri human rights group, said it was not yet clear if the government was exaggerating the threat to show the West its determination to battle militant groups.”The Wahhabi virus has been around here for a few years, but it’s necessary to prove their involvement in these events,” Ibrahimoglu said.Hidayat Orujev, the head of Azerbaijan’s state agency in charge of dealing with religious groups, hinted at possible foreign involvement in the plot, saying that some “groups aiming to upset religious stability in Azerbaijan had been guided from abroad.”Azerbaijan has already been caught in a tug-of-war for influence between the secular, democratic West and Iran, its Shiite neighbor to the south.Rumblings of Shiite political Islam have been particularly noticeable in the more conservative southern regions that border Iran.