Hit men sent to France to kill Azerbaijani blogger who is Aliyev foe

Following the arrest in France, on 12 June, of two men on suspicion of being sent to kill Mahammad Mirzali, an outspoken Azerbaijani video blogger who is a refugee in France, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for this latest apparent attempt to murder Mirzali on French territory to be addressed by the French and Azerbaijani governments at the highest level.

French police arrested the two suspected hit men on 12 June at a motorway toll near Angers, 90 km east of Nantes, the northwestern city where Mahammad Mirzali – a fierce critic of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev – now lives

One was an Azerbaijani, who was armed with a pistol. The other was a Moldovan of Turkish origin. Both were driving Polish-registered cars and both had Mirzali’s address as their destination in their GPS devices. 

One also had a photo of Mirzali in his telephone, RSF learned from Mirzali, who was briefed by the police about the arrests and who told RSF he was still “in a state of shock.” One was reportedly arrested on a kidnapping charge in 2018 in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, according to an Azerbaijani media report of the time.

 “Everything seems to indicate that this was yet another attempt to murder Mahammad Mirzali, the third attempt, one just as terrifying as the previous two,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “A hit squad was sent from abroad to target a blogger who was given political asylum in France because of his criticism of Ilham Aliyev. This case must be addressed at the highest state level.” 

Mirzali told RSF he gets “an average of 2,000 threatening messages a day, especially on YouTube.” He said the typical one consists of a profile photo with a Kalashnikov accompanied by some clearly threatening words such as “I’m here.”

Mirzali had to be hospitalised after the second of the two previous murder attempts, in which he was stabbed in the centre of Nantes in March 2021.  Four men – three of them born in Azerbaijan and one born in Georgia – were arrested in connection with this attack and were charged with “attempted murder by an organised gang.”

President Aliyev suppresses free speech and press freedom ruthlessly in Azerbaijan but has denied any involvement in the attempts to murder Mirzali, who has nonetheless been sued by Aliyev allies in France. A defamation suit that a former Azerbaijani deputy economy minister brought against Mirzali was ruled as inadmissible by a French court last week.

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