U.S. officials among the targets of Iran-linked assassination plots

Investigators at Tughlaq Road police station inspect a vehicle that exploded near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, on February 14, 2012. The blast that badly wounded an Israeli diplomat was a terrorist attack by a highly-trained operative, the Indian government said, as Israel accused Iran of being responsible.

In November, the tide of daily cable traffic to the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan brought a chilling message for Ambassador Matthew Bryza, then the top U.S. diplomat to the small Central Asian country. A plot to kill Americans had been uncovered, the message read, and embassy officials were on the target list.

The details, scant at first, became clearer as intelligence agencies from both countries stepped up their probe. The plot had two strands, U.S. officials learned, one involving snipers with silencer-equipped rifles and the other a car bomb, apparently intended to kill embassy employees or members of their families.

Both strands could be traced back to the same place, the officials were told: Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, Iran.

The threat, many details of which were never made public, appeared to recede after Azerbaijani authorities early this year. Precisely who ordered the hits, and why, was never conclusively determined. But U.S. and Middle Eastern officials now see the attempts as part of a broader campaign by Iran-linked operatives to kill foreign diplomats in at least seven countries over a span of 13 months. The targets have included two Saudi officials, a half-dozen Israelis and — in the Azerbaijan case — several Americans, the officials say.

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