Azerbaijan arrests group accused of spying for Iran intelligence services

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Azerbaijan said it arrested 19 citizens that it accused of being trained and funded by Iran in order to spy for its intelligence services.

The group was sent by Iran to Syria for training and had plans to act against Azerbaijan’s national interests, the state security agency DTX said in a statement on Tuesday.

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Banned books and video materials propagating religious extremism were recovered from members of the group, the statement added.

The Iranian embassy in Baku declined comment when reached by phone.

The statement comes as anti-government protests continue to grip Iran despite a violent crackdown by the Islamic Republic’s security forces.

Azerbaijan, which has a majority Shiite Muslim population like Iran, has seen its relations with Tehran deteriorate after its 44-day war with neighboring Armenia two years ago.

Armed with high-tech Israeli and Turkish drones, Azerbaijani forces reclaimed control of large swaths of its territory occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s before Russia brokered a cease-fire in November 2020.

Iran often criticizes Baku’s relationship with Israel and has accused Azerbaijan of hosting the country’s forces near its border. Last week, Iran said it arrested 10 people accused of spying for Israel in a northwestern province that borders Azerbaijan.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps last month carried out large-scale military drills in the area, warning against any changes to international borders in the region. Tehran also opened a consular office in the town of Kapan, capital of Armenia’s southern region of Syunik close to the Iranian border.

On Tuesday, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited Tehran where he met President Ebrahim Raisi. Both countries agreed to develop a new trade corridor, double a gas-export agreement and extend their gas-for-electricity swap deal.

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