Azerbaijan has arrested six men it says are linked to Iranian secret services, as relations between Baku and Tehran continue to deteriorate.
According to a joint statement by the Interior Ministry, State Security service and Prosecutor-General’s office, the six men – all Azerbaijani nationals – were “recruited by Iranian secret services to destabilise the situation in the country.”
They were allegedly plotting to “set up a ‘resistance squad’ aimed at establishing a Sharia state in Azerbaijan through armed unrest and violent overthrow of Azerbaijan’s constitutional order.”
The men were accused of being “engaged in a pro-Iranian propaganda of religious radicalism, fulfilling orders from abroad to undermine Azerbaijan’s tradition of tolerance”, primarily by promoting “radical Islam” through money gained from drug trafficking.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Iran have been significantly strained over the past few years, particularly since Tehran supported Armenia against Azeri forces during the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in late 2020. The tensions spiked in January when a gunman stormed Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran, killing one guard and leading to Baku suspending its diplomatic mission in the country.
Iran also harbours concerns that Azerbaijan will provide Israel with a platform for attacks from the north in the event of a conflict, and is also agitated by Azerbaijan’s stronger ties with Iran’s regional and geopolitical rival, Turkiye.
In February, Azerbaijani authorities also arrested 39 people allegedly belonging to an Iranian “espionage network”.