Those allegations recall the arrests in the mid- to late-1990s of plotters who were subsequently tried and sentenced on charges of plotting to assassinate now deceased Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev.
The two men detained were named as Alimurad Nakhmedov, a citizen of Azerbaijan and former employee of the Baku Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Ali Sagiev, a Chechen refugee whom Nakhmedov allegedly met through his work. Nakhmedov was allegedly recruited by a former police colonel, Pirali Orudjev, who is said to be close to the leadership of the opposition Musavat party. Orudjev has also been taken into custody. Orudjev and Moscow-based Azeri businessman Rzabala Guliev allegedly offered Nakhmedov, who was described as a "radical oppositionist," a large sum of money to carry out the assassinations, the reported aim of which was to create fear and panic among the population.
The killings were reportedly first scheduled to coincide with President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Moscow in May to attend the 9 May ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, which falls just one day before Heidar Aliyev's birthday, but were allegedly postponed for reasons the joint statement failed to clarify. They were then rescheduled for early June, shortly before the planned opposition rally in Baku on 4 June. At Nakhmedov's instigation, Sagiev reportedly placed an explosive device under Shukyurov's car during the night of 1-2 June, but Nakhmedov's effort to detonate it by a mobile-phone signal on 2 June failed.
Suspicions that the alleged plot was indeed a fabrication are likely to damage further the reputation of Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov, who in recent months has sought to present a "liberal" image, installing a hotline at his office for public complaints and traveling to rural areas to review local residents' grievances.
In a statement to Trend news agency on 13 June summarized by day.az the following day, Azad Azerbaycan President Ibragimov attributed the planned attack on his life to "radical opposition forces" that have been "defeated in the ideological struggle" and have thus decided to "resort to terror." He characterized the planned terrorist acts as directed against Azerbaijan's statehood and the authority of President Ilham Aliyev, Heidar's son and successor. That type of harsh rhetoric only fuels suspicions that the entire supposed plot might have been a fabrication.
The Musavat party dismissed the allegations as a crude attempt to discredit Musavat in the run-up to parliamentary elections due in November. The progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, which is aligned with Musavat in the Azadlyg election bloc, issued a similar statement on 14 June deploring the arrest of Orudjev and accusing the authorities of launching a campaign of terror and intimidation against the opposition in the run-up to the November ballot, Turan reported.
The opposition reaction is entirely understandable in light of the numerous fabricated or poorly substantiated charges brought against opposition sympathizers and those who incurred the displeasure of the authorities over the past decade. But it fails to take into account alternative hypotheses, such as the possibility that the allegations may be partly true: that an amateurish scheme to kill either Ibragimov or Shukyurov was indeed discovered but that the motives for doing so might have been personal rather than political. After all, neither Ibragimov nor Shukyurov is so prominent that his murder would endanger political stability.
Suspicions that the alleged plot was indeed a fabrication are likely to damage further the reputation of Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov, who in recent months has sought to present a "liberal" image, installing a hotline at his office for public complaints and traveling to rural areas to review local residents' grievances. Garalov was subjected to harsh criticism by the Azerbaijani opposition and human rights activists in connection with the trial and sentencing in 2004 of seven opposition activists (including prominent Musavat party members) on charges stemming from the clashes in Baku between police and oppositionists in the wake of the disputed October 2003 presidential election.
Also of note is the fact that the accusations against Musavat were preceded by the arrest on 3 June at Baku airport of Almaz Gulieva, the wife of a nephew of self-exiled former parliamentary speaker and opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Guliev. Police claim to have found a pistol in Gulieva's luggage. The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and the Musavat party are aligned in the Azadlyg election bloc, together with the progressive wing of the AHCP. If in the near future that party is also implicated in criminal or terrorist activities, it would substantiate the hypothesis that such allegations are part of a crude campaign to destroy the Azadlyg bloc's credibility, or even to create a pretext for refusing to register it to participate in the November ballot.