Azerbaijan arrests 39 people accused of working for Iran amid Tehran-Baku tensions
Azerbaijan has arrested 39 people for allegedly participating in sabotage activities and promoting Iranian propaganda, Azerbaijan’s APA news agency reported on Wednesday.
“As a result of the special operations carried out by the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 39 people who carried out acts of sabotage and disruption under the “veil of religion” in Azerbaijan were identified and detained,” APA reported.
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It said those arrested “carried out propaganda in favor of Iran on social networks, abused the freedom of religious belief in our country, and fulfilled the tasks of the Iranian special services in order to undermine the traditions of tolerance formed in Azerbaijan.”
The announcement came a day after Azerbaijan urged its citizens against unnecessary travel to Iran.
Tensions between the countries have increased following an armed attack last week on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran that left an Azerbaijani security official dead and wounded two others.
Iranian authorities said the attacker, an Iranian man, was arrested and cited “personal and family problems” as the motivation for the attack.
But Azerbaijan blamed Iran for the attack which it labelled as an act of terrorism. Baku evacuated embassy staff and their family members from Iran on Sunday.
Azerbaijani foreign ministry spokesman Ayxan Hacizada said the attack was “encouraged” by an anti-Azerbaijani campaign in Iranian media.
Iran and Azerbaijan share a border of around 700 kilometers (430 miles).
The two countries have a complex relationship. Iran is wary of Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel, a major supplier of arms to Baku. Tehran is also wary over nationalists in Azerbaijan and its close ally Turkey fanning separatist tendencies among its sizeable ethnic Azeri population.
Azeris are the largest minority group in Iran, with millions living in a region in northwestern Iran that shares the same name as the independent state of Azerbaijan.