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Daghestan Militants Blamed For Baku Mosque Blast

  • Liz Fuller

On September 1, Azerbaijani media quoted an unnamed Interior Ministry source as saying that police and ministry forces clashed three days earlier in northern Azerbaijan's Gusar district with four members of a militant group based in southern Daghestan who escaped after killing one special forces officer.

On September 2, Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry released a statement claiming that two members of that militant group, Ilgar Mollachiyev and his relative Samir Mehdiyev, were responsible for organizing the August 17 explosion at Baku's popular Abu-Bekr Mosque that killed two people and injured 18, day.az reported. According to that statement, 13 people have been arrested in connection with the mosque blast; a statement by the Interior Ministry on September 3 said 11 people affiliated with "radical religious or terrorist groups" have been arrested.

The National Security Ministry statement claimed that Mollachiyev had ties to a group of militants based in northern Azerbaijan, 17 of whom the ministry apprehended last year in Sumgait. Mollachiyev and Mehdiyev allegedly sought to revive that group, known as the Forest Brothers, with the aim of perpetrating acts of terrorism in order to destabilize the situation throughout Azerbaijan.

To that end, the ministry statement continues, Mollachiyev and Mehdiyev entered Azerbaijan illegally on July 19 and traveled to Baku, where they hoped to establish a new Sumgait jamaat that would engage in a series of robberies to raise funds, according to zerkalo.az on September 3. They then planned to found a Guba-Gusar jamaat that would create the required infrastructure (hideouts and arms caches) for military actions in northern Azerbaijan.

That National Security Ministry statement contains two major flaws, however. First, the North Caucasus Islamic resistance in general, and the resistance in Daghestan in particular, adheres to the Salafi strain of Sunni Islam. The congregation of the Abu Bekr Mosque is also predominantly Salafi. What conceivable motive could the resistance have to target co-religionists?

And second, a spokesman for Daghestan's Shariat jamaat, one of the subdivisions of the North Caucasus resistance, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service last month that the group's primary objective is to "expel the aggressor" -- meaning Russia -- from the territory over which the resistance claims hegemony. He made no mention of exporting jihad to Azerbaijan.

The question thus arises: who else might have had an interest in attacking the Abu-Bekr Mosque, and why? A September 4 statement to the website day.az by Azerbaijani Deputy Interior Minister Orudj Zalov that "the religious sphere in Azerbaijan is marked by complete stability and tolerance" was clearly intended to dispel any possible suspicion of enmity between the various Islamic communities in Azerbaijan -- the Salafis, the pro-Iranian Shi'a congregations of Baku's Djuma Mosque and the village of Nardaran, and the "official" clergy headed by Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pasha-zade. During the early months of 2007, however, there were several vague and unsubstantiated reports in the Azerbaijani media of tensions between representatives of different schools of Islam.

A second possibility is that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) may have organized the grenade attack on Abu-Bekr in order to destabilize the political situation in Azerbaijan in the run-up to the October 15 presidential election.

In a September 3 interview with day.az, Humanitarian Party leader Oktay Atahan gave partial credence to the National Security Ministry explanation, saying at the same time he has no doubts that the FSB recruited Daghestani militants under a "false flag" to perpetrate the Abu-Bekr attack. Atahan suggested that attack was part of a broader operation by the FSB to mobilize Azerbaijan's alienated ethnic minorities, especially the Lezgins of northern Azerbaijan, under the banner of Islam.
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