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Azerbaijani Authorities Say Two Extremists Killed In Tense City Of Ganca

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BAKU -- Authorities say police killed two alleged religious extremists in a confrontation in Ganca, Azerbaijan's second-largest city and the site of past violence blamed on Islamic militants.

Famil Alakbarov and Rustam Rzayev were killed on November 4 after they refused to stop their car and opened fire at police, the South Caucasus nation's State Security Service (DTX) said in a statement.

It said that Alakbarov and Rzayev were "members of a militant radical extremist group" and that police sought to stop their car after receiving information that the two had purchased weapons and explosive devices and were plotting a terrorist attack.

Police found an AK-47 assault rifle, explosives with detonators, and a grenade in the car, the statement said.

There was no way of verifying the account given by the authorities in the former Soviet republic, who critics contend sometimes falsely accuse suspects of crimes, plots, and extremist views.

Tension has persisted in the western city of Ganca since early July, when its mayor was shot and wounded in an attack outside his office and two police officers were killed in unrest that erupted in the wake of the attack.

Police arrested a suspect in the attack on the city's chief executive, Elmar Valiyev.

They alleged that the suspect, Yunis Safarov, belonged to a radical Islamist group and was plotting a coup intended to pave the way for the creation of an Islamic state in the mostly Shi'ite Muslim nation that borders Iran.

A week later, authorities said two high-ranking police officers were stabbed to death when hundreds of Safarov's supporters clashed with police in Ganca.

Two men suspected of involvement in the police deaths were shot dead in two separate police operations, while some 60 other suspects were detained, according to the authorities.

Azerbaijani authorities also said in July that 14 people were jailed for terms ranging from 10 to 30 days for online comments about Valiyev's shooting and a nationwide power outage that occurred the same day.

President Ilham Aliyev's opponents, Western countries, and international human rights groups say his government has persistently persecuted critics, political foes, independent media outlets, and civic activists.

Aliyev, who has ruled the nation of almost 10 million people since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism.

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