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Azerbaijan arrests 39 belonging to Iran ‘espionage network’

February 2, 2023 at 2:10 pm

Police take security measurements in Iran’s capital Tehran [Fatemeh Bahrami – Anadolu Agency]

Azerbaijan has carried out a mass arrest of 39 people as part of an ongoing operation against an alleged Iranian “espionage network”. An announcement was made yesterday by the Ministry of Internal Affairs confirming the arrests after a previous report stated seven suspects had been detained.

The ministry said the arrests were made against people who carried out acts of sabotage and propaganda activities under the “veil of religion”, reported the Azerbaijani Press Agency (APA).  The ministry alleges that the detainees, “posing as believers, made propaganda for Iran on social networks and abused the freedom of religion in the country, carrying out the assignments of the Iranian special services.”

The crackdown comes after last week’s armed attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran, which left one security official dead and two others wounded. A gunman opened fire with a Kalashnikov rifle and has since been arrested by Iranian police. The incident was reportedly related to “personal and family-related problems”, however Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev described it as a “terrorist attack” which will be “thoroughly investigated” by Baku.

READ: Iran may criminalise social media comments

Despite no official blame being placed on Iran over the attack by Baku, there is a widespread belief in the local media that Iran was complicit, with the delayed response to the incident by Iranian security forces being seen as suspicious.

“For nearly half an hour, while this terrorist managed to enter the Azerbaijani embassy twice, the police and the Security Service did not show up in any way. This can only happen if the above-mentioned bodies have received a certain order,” a former foreign minister of Azerbaijan, Tofig Zulfugarov, told on Tuesday.

In the wake of the attack, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi assured President Aliyev in a phone call that the recent attack will not impact diplomatic relations between the two countries, despite tensions since the 2020 war with Armenia.

Azerbaijan has since evacuated its embassy staff and their relatives from Tehran and advised citizens against travelling to Iran.

READ: Raisi: Iran-Azerbaijan ties unaffected by embassy attack