Security authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested four men on suspicion of recruiting Azerbaijani nationals to fight in Syria, pro-government media have reported.
The Day.az and Apa.az news sites cited the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office on March 11 as sources for the reports, according to which the four suspects -- Zyulfugar Ibragimov, Mubariz Mirozoyev, Shamseddin Abdullazadze, and Vyugar Aliyev -- were all arrested in the Terter district of Azerbaijan, most of which is under the de facto control of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The pro-government Azerbaijani news reports said the authorities had been approached by a resident of the Terter region, who told them that his son had been recruited by members of a "radical religious movement." The son had later been sent to Syria to fight alongside militants, his father claimed, according to the news reports.
The reports did not mention which group or groups the suspects are alleged to have recruited for, however.
According to the reports, an investigation into the Terter district resident's claims "exposed an extremist organized crime group" who had been recruiting individuals from the district to armed groups in Syria.
A search of the suspects' apartments uncovered several weapons and ammunition, including an automatic rifle, explosives, and hand grenades. The authorities also allegedly discovered a large collection of religious literature and CDs with prohibited material, the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office said.
IS Recruiters Or Karabakh Liberation Organization Members?
In a surprising development, the head of the Karabakh Liberation Organization, an Azerbaijani organization whose objective is the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, said that two of the arrested men were members of his group.
Akif Naghi said that Ibragimov and Aliyev were not members of any extremist religious sect, according to the Caucasian Knot news website. He said that he believed the detention of the two men was unreasonable, and that he had made an appeal to the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office regarding their arrest.
Naghi reportedly said that Ibragimov and Aliyev were either "victims of some intrigue or victims of an apparent war on extremism that the security authorities want to demonstrate." He did not mention the other two arrested suspects, Abdullazadze and Mirozoyev.
There did not appear to be any reports on March 12 of any immediate response from the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry or Prosecutor-General's Office regarding Naghi's claims.
Azerbaijanis In Syria
The news of the arrests of four Azerbaijanis suspected of recruitment of militants comes a month after reports of the deaths of two Azerbaijani Islamic State militants in Syria.
Fariz Dostaliyev, a resident of the village of Sangachal, south of Baku, was reported killed in February, some days after reports of the death of another Azerbaijani man, Ismail Ismailov from the Khachmaz district in northeastern Azerbaijan.
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 foreign fighters in Syria is likely fighting for IS. In May, the leader of an Azerbaijani IS faction in Raqqa, Mohammad al-Azeri, gave a video address in which he stated that IS was on the "correct path of jihad" in Syria.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk