Connect to share and comment

Azerbaijan arrests 22 over alleged Iranian plot to attack Israeli & US targets

Azerbaijan's national security ministry said Wednesday the suspects had received weapons and espionage training in Iran and were planning to attack western targets, including the US and Israeli embassies in Baku.

Israel azerbaijan israel 2012 03 14Enlarge
Israeli President Shimon Peres (R) is welcomed by Azeri President Ilham Heydar oglu Aliyev at the presidential palace in Baku, Azerbaijan in June 2009. (GPO/Getty Images)

Azerbaijan has arrested 22 people on suspicion of spying for Iran, accusing them of links with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

A statement issued Wednesday by the Azerbaijani national security ministry confirmed the undated arrests: it said the 22 “were to commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other western states’ embassies and the embassies’ employees,” the AFP reported.

“Firearms, cartridges, explosives and espionage equipment were found during the arrest,” the statement continued. Recruited from 1999 onwards, the suspects allegedly received weapons and espionage training at military camps in Iran. They have been charged with treason and the purchase and possession of weapons and explosives.

More on GlobalPost: Has Israel's regional isolation helped protect its economy?

It was not clear on Wednesday when the 22 were actually arrested. However, Contact, a non-government Azerbaijani news site supported by the US National Endowment for Democracy, said the arrests took place between late January and 20 February, according to the BBC.

Local TV states reported last month that a plot to attack the Israeli embassy and a Jewish center in Azerbaijan had been foiled, at a time when Iran was also suspected of attacking Israeli targets in Thailand, India and Georgia.

More from GlobalPost: Is Iran exacting revenge on Israel?

A covert war of assassination plots, bombings appears to be underway between Israel and Iran in the South Caucasus, which comprises Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.

In January three men were detained after planning to attack a Rabbi and a teacher at a Jewish capital in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. Azerbaijan said the suspects had received smuggled arms and equipment from Iranian agents, who had orchestrated the attack in retaliation for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists, according to Haaretz.

Iran says Azerbaijanis have been helping Israeli assassinations in Iran, and Tehran has often threatened to invade Azerbaijan should it allow western countries to launch operations from its territory, according to GlobalPost.

Azerbaijan is a major supplier of both natural gas and oil to Europe, and several pipeline projects geared towards reducing the EU’s dependence on Russia for energy require Georgian territory and Azerbaijani resources.

Both countries are also key links in the Northern Distribution Network, a transit route supplying Western forces in Afghanistan.

More from GlobalPost: South Caucasus nations fear Iran-Israel war

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120314/azerbaijan-arrests-22-over-alleged-iranian-plot-attack-israeli