Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs announced on Thursday that it had detained 39 people on charges of carrying out ‘acts of sabotage’. Two days earlier, seven media employees were detained on suspicion of ‘promoting Iran’s policy’ in Azerbaijan.
The detentions come less than a week after an attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran by a lone gunman, which has worsened already strained relations between Tehran and Baku.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs evacuated embassy staff to Azerbaijan shortly after the attack, and has since warned Azerbaijani citizens to avoid travelling to Iran.
[Read more on OC Media: One dead in attack on Azerbaijani Embassy in Iran]
Interior Ministry spokesperson Elshad Hajiyev told Meydan TV that the 39 people had propagated pro-Iranian propaganda on Azerbaijani social networks, passed information on to Iran’s special services, and carried out ‘acts of sabotage’ in Azerbaijan ‘under the veil of religion’.
Local media reported that the individuals attempted to ‘undermine established traditions of tolerance’ in Azerbaijan.
On 31 January, seven employees of the SalamNews and InterAz news outlets were detained as part of the operation to intercept an alleged Iranian ‘spy network’.
Matlab Bagirov, the owner of InterAz and SalamNews, was among those detained during the operation. Both outlets were known to publish pro-Islam and pro-Iranian content.
Bagirov, also known as Haji Matlab, is originally from the Jalilabad region in southeastern Azerbaijan, and bought InterAz in 2016. He is believed to have received a religious education in Iran and Syria.
Speaking to Turkish officials via video conference on 1 February, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that ‘no serious measures were taken by the Iranian police and security forces’ during the attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in the Iranian capital.
At around 08:30 in the morning on 27 January, a man armed with an assault rifle entered the embassy in Tehran and opened fire, killing the embassy’s head of security and injuring two others.