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Azerbaijan 'thwarts terrorist plot to attack Eurovision'

Azerbaijan says it has arrested 40 people after thwarting a plot to stage “terrorist” attacks during last week’s Eurovision Song Contest in the capital Baku.

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Plainclothes police officers detain opposition activists who tried to hold a rally near public television station which is the Azerbaijani partner for Eurovision broadcasts in Baku, on May 23, 2012. ( VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Azerbaijan says it has arrested 40 people after thwarting a plot to stage “terrorist” attacks during last week’s Eurovision Song Contest in the capital Baku.

The national security ministry said in a statement Wednesday that an “armed criminal group” equipped with firearms, explosives and other military equipment had planned to attack the Baku Crystal Hall where the event was being held, as well as several hotels used by foreigners and a number of religious sites, according to Fox4 News.

An assassination attempt on Azeri President Ilham Aliyev had also been planned, the statement said. The news was deliberately not made public so as to prevent panic among visitors, it adds.

According to Naharnet, the ministry said it had detained 40 members of the alleged gang in Baku as well as in the cities of Ganja and Sumgayit, and several other regions of the oil-rich, ex-Soviet state.

There has been no independent confirmation of the alleged plot, the BBC reports. The ministry said the plotters had links to neighboring Dagestan, a mainly Muslim republic in the Russian North Caucasus where Islamist insurgent attacks have taken place.

More from GlobalPost: Despite modern facade, Azerbaijan guilty of rights abuses

Human rights groups have expressed concern over Azerbaijan’s rights record, GlobalPost reports. Protesters were beaten and 38 of them detained after a demonstration last week, while 16 activists and journalists are currently imprisoned.

Twenty-six countries took part in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku on Saturday, which was watched by millions of TV viewers around the world. Swedish singer Loreen won the contest, in front of a live audience of some 20,000. 

More from GlobalPost: Iran recalls envoy to Azerbaijan over alleged Eurovision 'gay parade'

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120530/azerbaijan-thwarts-terrorist-plot-attack-eurovision