Police in Azerbaijan have foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate Israel's ambassador and other prominent Jews in apparent revenge for the killing of nuclear scientists in Tehran, officials in the former Soviet state claimed.
Three Azerbaijani nationals recruited by Iranian intelligence were supplied with a sniper rifle, explosives and money and told to kill Michael Lotem, the Israeli envoy to Baku, according to the country's internal affairs ministry.
Although Mr Lotem was the chief target of the conspiracy, the three men were also instructed to attack a Jewish religious school in the capital and kill its headmaster and chief rabbi, the ministry said in a statement.
If true, the plot will be seen as the latest evidence of Iran's intentions to strike at its enemies abroad. Last October, the US justice ministry said it had uncovered an Iranian conspiracy to use members of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
The Iranian government strongly denied the claims, calling them a "comedy show fabricated by America."
The exposure of the purported plot in Azerbaijan comes a fortnight after an assassin on a motorcycle killed an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran by placing a magnetic bomb on the door of his car.
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who was 32, was the fourth nuclear scientist to die in almost identical circumstances in two years. In an unusual step, the United States issued a series of strongly-worded denials of CIA involvement, a step that was seen as effectively laying the blame for the killings on Israel and its Mossad intelligence service.
Iran was incensed by the scientist's death and threatened retaliation.
"Iran's reaction will extend beyond the borders and beyond the region," an intelligence official in Tehran was quoted by a website close to the regime as saying. "It follows the strategy that none of those who ordered these attacks should feel safe anywhere."
Azerbaijan said the three suspects were in custody. They were arrested during a surveillance operation outside the Jewish school. The ringleader, identified as Balagardash Dadashov, allegedly met his handlers in a city in northern Iran, close to the Azerbaijani border, where he was promised £100,000 if the mission was successfully completed.
Up to a quarter of Iran's population is of Azeri ethnicity and the two countries have close cultural ties, although relations at government level are notably strained.