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Azerbaijan Arrests 22 For Allegedly Plotting U.S., Israeli Attacks

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (left) meets with Azerbaijan Defense Minister General Safar Abiyev earlier this week.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (left) meets with Azerbaijan Defense Minister General Safar Abiyev earlier this week.

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of National Security has announced the arrests of 22 people on suspicion of plotting attacks on the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Baku.

Azerbaijani national security officials alleged that the suspects, all Azerbaijani citizens, were working to plot the attacks on behalf of neighboring Iran. Officials say they cooperated with members of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Azerbaijani officials said the suspects had been recruited by Iran beginning in 1999. They said the suspects were trained in the use of weapons and spy techniques at military camps in Iran to help them gather information on foreign embassies, organizations, and companies in Azerbaijan and stage attacks against them.

A National Security Ministry statement said, "Firearms, cartridges, explosives, and espionage equipment were found during the arrest" of the suspects.

The statement gave no details about when, where, or how the arrests of the suspects took place.

No official statement from Iran in response to the case was immediately available.

The announcement of the arrests came just two days after Tehran and Baku exchanged mutual pledges to foster "friendship and cooperation," following a period of strained relations.

Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev said on March 12 during a two-day trip to Tehran that Baku would not allow its territory to be used for a Western military attack on Iran and was seeking closer cooperation with Iran to secure peace and stability in the region.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad responded to Abiyev’s statement by saying, "Tehran-Baku ties will never be harmed."

There has been months of tension recently between the Islamic republic and mainly Muslim, but officially secular, Azerbaijan.

Tehran has reportedly been displeased by friendlier links between Azerbaijan and Iranian rival Israel in recent months. In February, Iran accused Azerbaijan of allowing Israeli spies to use Azerbaijani territory after reports emerged of Azerbaijan’s purchase of some $1.6 billion of weapons from Israel.

With AFP, Interfax, and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reporting