Azerbaijan investigates ‘terror attack’ after lawmaker is shot and wounded

(This March 29 story has been corrected to say that Azerbaijan opened an embassy in Israel on Wednesday, not Israel in Azerbaijan, in paragraph 8)

BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan’s State Security Service said on Wednesday that it was investigating “a terror attack” after a lawmaker with strong anti-Iranian views was shot and wounded at his home.

Fazil Mustafa, a member of parliament, was hospitalised after receiving wounds to his shoulder and thigh when he was shot with a Kalashnikov assault rifle on Tuesday night, the security agency said in a statement.

His life was not at risk, it said, and a criminal investigation had been opened to identify the perpetrator.

Azeri news site quoted Mustafa, 57, as saying from hospital that he had been hit by two bullets while driving into his garage.

The State Security Service noted in its statement that Mustafa was known for his critical views on Iran, Azerbaijan’s southern neighbour.

Mustafa, who in parliament leads a small opposition party that is seen as ultimately pro-government, has previously called Iran, which shares a Shi’ite Islamic majority faith with Azerbaijan, a “terrorist state”. He has also accused Tehran of trying to turn Azerbaijani religious pilgrims in Iran against the Baku authorities.

Relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, which has a large population of ethnic Azeris in its northwest, have been strained in recent months. In January, Azerbaijan closed its embassy in Tehran after what it called a “terrorist attack” that killed the embassy’s head of security.

Azerbaijan has also deepened a longstanding relationship with Tehran’s rival Israel, with Baku on Wednesday opening an embassy in Israel.

Azerbaijani media on Wednesday cited Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen as saying during a meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart in Tel Aviv that he would visit Azerbaijan this year.

At a joint news conference with Iran’s foreign minister in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that he hoped that “frictions” between Iran and Azerbaijan would soon be resolved. Russia maintains friendly relations with both countries.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Felix Light; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Mark Trevelyan and Alex Richardson)