New evidence reveals Iranian agents and Hizballah militants have conspired to assassinate foreign diplomats from countries hostile to Iran, specifically targeting American, Israeli and Saudi officials, the Washington Post reports.
Several assassination plots in at least seven different countries during the past 13 months have been linked to either Iranian operatives or Iran-backed Hizballah agents.
American and Middle Eastern experts "see these incidents as part of an ongoing shadow war, a multi-sided covert struggle in which Iran also has been victim of assassinations," the Post reports.
The plots targeted foreign diplomats in Thailand, Pakistan, Turkey, Indian and Georgia.
Cables from the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan last November showed that Iranian nationals crossed into the country last fall and planned to use "silencer-equipped rifles" and car bombs to assassinate U.S. diplomats.
An unnamed foreign intelligence agency intercepted electronic messages which linked the plot back to an Azerbaijani individual with criminal history, named Balagardash Dashdev. He reportedly has strong ties to militant groups and intelligence agents based in Iran.
The assailants had "names [of employees]," a former State Department official said. "And they were interested in family members, too."
Investigators have obtained phone records, forensic tests, travel plans and cell phone SIM cards purchased in Iran as evidence in the plots.
The attacks were to be in revenge for deaths of Iranian nuclear scientists, which Iran blames on Israel and the United States. A statement from the Iranian Embassy in Baku denies the allegations and suggests the plot was fabricated.
"We believe that the glorious people of Azerbaijan understand that this part of the script of Iranophobia and Islamophobia is organized by the Zionists in the United States."
The Obama administration refused to directly link the Azerbaijan plot to the Iranians, perhaps fearful of obstructing U.S.-Iranian negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear program.
"The idea that Iran and Hezbollah might have worked together on these attempts is possible… but this conclusion is not definitive," a senior U.S. official who has examined the evidence stated.
However, officials have analyzed an abrupt freeze this spring in planned assassinations as Iran tuned down its anti-Western rhetoric and threats.
"There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to calm things down ahead of the talks…What happens if the talks fail — that's anyone's guess," said a Western diplomat who was briefed on the plots.