Azerbaijani Security Forces Arrest Suspected Islamist Militants Foll

Lilit Gevorgyan

Global Insight
April 10, 2012

On 6 April, Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry reported that
17 suspected Islamist militants had been arrested in a raid. In a
statement the Ministry said that during the nationwide operation,
an agent from the ministry’s special operations department, Elshad
Guliyev, was killed while three others were wounded in the town
of Ganja. The operation also covered the capital Baku and Sumgait,
north of the capital and home to most of Azerbaijan’s petrochemical
industry. The state security services stated that the suspects were
members of “an illegal armed group which were planning subversive
and terrorist acts aimed at undermining political stability in the
country.” Meanwhile, local news in Ganja reported that the detained
people were “Wahhabist-influenced”, followers of particular Sunni
branch in Islam.

Significance:Azerbaijan is a largely Shi’a Muslim republic, and
has seen a rise in the activities of Islamist militants. Given the
country’s poor human rights record, it is hard to verify if the
reported arrest of suspected militants are indeed to do with a true
security risk or is a way of suppressing the already weakened and
beleaguered opposition in Azerbaijan. Its national security agency,
which has increased significantly in size in recent years under the
presidency of Ilham Aliyev, has claimed in the past to have thwarted
attacks on foreign embassies by Islamists with links to neighbouring
Iran, which is also a largely Shi’a Muslim state. However, there have
been fewer reports of Wahhabi militants’ presence in Azerbaijan in
recent years. These groups are prevalent in Russia’s North Caucasus,
which shares Azerbaijan’s northern border. During Azerbaijan’s war
against its mainly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous
region from 1988 to 1993, there were numerous reports of the
presence of Chechen brigades fighting against Armenians in support
of Azerbaijan. However, since the return of precarious peace in the
region it is difficult to establish if these North Caucasian groups
operate in Azerbaijan or if the recently arrested suspects have
any links with them. Nonetheless, the growing reports of arrests of
militants raise concerns over the security situation in the country.

From: A. Papazian

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