A group of London-based religious radicals attacked the Azerbaijani embassy in the United Kingdom on Thursday.
In video footage from the kingdom’s capital, the group was seen removing the Azerbaijani flag from the building’s balcony, replacing it with an unknown religious banner, and chanting religious slogans.
“After the intervention of the local police, the group members were taken out of the building and detained. Embassy employees were not injured as a result of the incident,” Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the same day, referring to the event as an “act of vandalism.”
“The incident is being investigated by local law enforcement agencies. Additional information regarding the results of the investigation will be provided.”
The Metropolitan police of London arrested eight men of the group on suspicion of trespassing and criminal damage and took them into custody following the incident.
The ministry summoned on Friday the Chargé d'Affaires of the Embassy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Republic of Azerbaijan to express Azerbaijan’s protest over recent events. Baku demanded that the UK authorities conduct a comprehensive investigation into the vandalism in the embassy and bring those responsible to justice.
Azerbaijan’s envoy to the UK, Elin Suleymanov, said the diplomats and personnel at the embassy continued their work despite “duress and endangerment”.
“The attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in the UK by London-based radicals is unacceptable and barbaric. It directly undermined the principle of diplomatic premises' inviolability. I am currently in Baku and grateful to see that our colleagues are safe in spite of the threat to their safety and security,” Suleymanov wrote on Twitter.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Chavushoglu called his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov to discuss the scandalous event in the Azerbaijani embassy. He strongly condemned the attack and voiced Türkiye’s support to Azerbaijan in investigating it.
The attackers of the embassy introduced themselves as members of the “Mahdi Servants Union” radical religious group. Mahdi is believed to be the 13th Islamic Imam.
According to media reports, the “Mahdi Servants Union” is a Shia Muslim group based in London. The ultimate goal of the religious hardliner group is to prepare the world for the “reappearance of the promised Imam Mahdi through faith advancing of societies in accordance with the Islamic Rafida values and achieving the Shia civilizational dominance.”
The leader of the group Yasser Al-Habib is said to be a controversial cleric whose film “The Lady of Heaven” was banned in cinemas across the UK earlier this year following protests from some Sunni Muslims, who claimed the movie offended Islamic history by biased interpretation.
Al-Habib’s religious life started in Kuwait as a member of the Dawah Party, later he established a non-profit religious organization named Khoddam Al-Mahdi Organization. He was well known for his religious views regarding Islamic khalifs Abu Bakr and Umar, whom he criticized sharply in a serious confrontation with mainstream Sunnis in Kuwait and other Arabic-speaking Sunni communities.
Al-Habib was detained due to his radical views and released in February 2004 under an annual pardon signed by the Emir of Kuwait but was put behind bars again a few days later. Al-Habib fled Kuwait before he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years imprisonment. He later settled in Iraq and Iran for a few months before gaining asylum in the United Kingdom, where he currently resides.
Baku-based political analyst Elkhan Shahinoghlu said the motifs for the attack would come to light following the culprits’ interrogation by the Metropolitan police. However, he is convinced that the real reasons behind the plot could be deliberately concealed.
“If this attack was carried out on the order of one of the religious centers residing overseas or sponsored by the Armenian lobby, they will hide the real reason,” he wrote on Facebook.
A day before the attack on the embassy on Thursday, Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed in short but bloody skirmishes in the latter’s Karabakh region. The hostilities sparked following the murder of an Azerbaijani soldier by the illegal Armenian armed gangs on August 3 morning. Azerbaijani army suppressed the provocation of the illegal armed gangs.