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Reports: Azerbaijani Gets 18 Months For Fighting In Syria


A man is stopped while trying to raise the black flag of the Islamic State group at an opposition rally in Baku in October. Baku has attempted to crack down on citizens joining militant groups.

A man is stopped while trying to raise the black flag of the Islamic State group at an opposition rally in Baku in October. Baku has attempted to crack down on citizens joining militant groups.

An Azerbaijani man found guilty of fighting in Syria has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, according to the pro-government portal Day.az.

According to earlier reports, Sabuxi Cafarov from Azerbaijan's Zardab district was detained in June.

What is most noticeable about the story of Cafarov's arrest, trial, and sentencing is the almost complete lack of details.

In June, media reports of Cafarov's arrest gave almost no information about his alleged activities in Syria, saying only that he fought there for "a long time" and that he had returned to Azerbaijan in February. No information was given regarding what Cafarov did between his return in February and his arrest in June, nor about the circumstances of his arrest.

There have also been almost no details of Cafarov's trial, the exact charges against him, or his defense. Media accounts have noted only that the authorities said he belonged to "Wahhabi networks," a term used in several former Soviet states to refer to Salafist or extremist Islam, and that the Zardab regional court sentenced him to a prison term of one year and six months.

It is not known how many Azerbaijanis are fighting in Syria. Estimates in news reports have ranged from 200 to 300. The largest group of Azerbaijani militants in Syria is likely fighting for the Islamic State (IS) group. In May, Muhammad al-Azeri, the leader of an Azerbaijani IS faction in Raqqa, said in a video message that IS was on the "correct path of jihad" in Syria.

Crackdown On 'Aggressive Religious Sects'

In response to reports about Azerbaijanis fighting in Syria, Baku has attempted to crack down on citizens joining militant groups.

Azerbaijan has introduced stricter antiterrorism legislation, amending its existing law, "On The Fight Against Terrorism." The new measures introduced in March included stricter punishments for those fighting as mercenaries.

The president of the Defense and Security Committee of the National Assembly, Ziyafet Askerov, said that the new measures were in response to "global processes and disorder that were exerting influence on Azerbaijan." Askerov said that "aggressive religious sects" were spreading propaganda and public incitement to terrorism in some schools and mosques.

In September, the Azerbaijani authorities arrested 26 individuals they said were alleged members of militant groups in Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq. One of the suspects was named as Elshan Qurbanli, who was alleged to have gone to Syria to fight with the IS group.

Unlike in Cafarov's case, the authorities gave more details about the suspicions against Qurbanli, whom they alleged had participated in military training in Raqqa and then joined IS's Azerbaijani jamaat (fighting group) under the command of a man named Khattab.

Qurbanli is alleged to have fought with IS militants in Iraq's Anbar Province. No details were provided about the circumstances of Qurbanli's arrest and there has as yet been no news of his trial.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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