Security authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested a group of 10 citizens who allegedly fought in Syria, according to Azerbaijani and Russian media reports quoting the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry on January 7.
According to the reports, the suspects were arrested as the result of "search operations."
Nine of the men are thought to have crossed into Syria illegally in 2014, where they underwent training including in shooting various types of small arms, the reports said. After the training the men fought in battles in "illegal armed groups," the reports said, citing information from the National Security Ministry.
The reports said that the authorities are carrying out "ongoing investigative and operational measures" regarding the 10 men and are also attempting to establish the identities of others involved in fighting in Syria.
The reports did not say which groups the 10 men are suspected of having fought with in Syria. While the men were all named, the reports did not say when exactly they are alleged to have gone to Syria or when or why they returned to Azerbaijan.
Lack Of Details About Arrests, Sentencing
Media reports in Azerbaijan of arrests and sentencing of Azerbaijani nationals found guilty of fighting in Syria have been characterized by a lack of details about the circumstances of the defendants' alleged activities in Syria and about their trials.
Last month, pro-government portal Day.az reported that an Azerbaijani man named as Sabuxi Cafarov had been found guilty of fighting in Syria and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
However, the reports of Cafarov's arrest in June 2014 and his trial gave almost no information about his alleged activities in Syria, saying only that he fought there for a "long time."
The January 7 report of the arrest of the 10 Azerbaijani men is not the first report of a mass arrest of individuals thought to have fought with extremist groups abroad. 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 Islamic State group.
'Azerbaijani Family Joined IS In Syria'
The reports of the arrests came amid another report by pro-government news agency APA that an Azerbaijani family living in Moscow had gone to Syria to join IS.
APA said on January 7 that its Moscow correspondent reported that the uncle of a missing Azerbaijani citizen, Turkan Huseynova, had told him that his niece and her family had gone to Syria.
According to APA, 21-year-old Huseynova, her husband, Gadzhimurad Gamidov, and their 1-year-old daughter Safiya disappeared on December 31. Gamidov is a Russian national from Daghestan and an ethnic Azerbaijani.
Huseynova's uncle, Dzhavanshir Huseynov, reportedly said that the couple had communicated with their families on January 1 and said that they planned to go to Syria and join IS. They had previously said they were in Turkey. The couple has not been heard from since, the report said.
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 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.
In response to reports of Azerbaijanis fighting in Syria and to increasing fears of the threat of radicalization in Azerbaijan, Baku has cracked down on citizens joining radical groups.
Measures have included the introduction of 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.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk