BAKU (Reuters) - Authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested 22 Azeri citizens suspected of spying for Iran and plotting to attack Western embassies and companies, the National Security Ministry said on Wednesday.
The arrests come two months after two men were arrested in Azerbaijan, Iran’s northern neighbour, on suspicion of plotting to attack foreigners, including the Israeli ambassador and a rabbi, and after bomb plots in India, Thailand and Georgia that Israel blamed on Tehran.
The ministry said the arrested people had links with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Sepah) and their alleged targets included the U.S. and Israeli embassies as well as British oil major BP.
Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim country, is home to more than 9,000 Jews and has friendly ties with Israel and the United States. A major energy producer, it exports oil to Israel and imports weapons and military hardware.
“Sepah wanted to set a special contingent in Azerbaijan under a cover of religious activity,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the suspects were equipped with rifles, grenades, detonators and “special equipment for spying”.
The suspects are suspected of gathering information to be used against Azeri security services, recruiting others to spy for Iranian intelligence and creating ammunition depots around the country.
Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have soured in recent months as Tehran accused its neighbour of assisting Israeli intelligence in the murder of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel has not commented on accusations it was behind the assassinations.
Writing by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy