At least seven individuals were arrested by Azerbaijani authorities on charges of attempting to carry out a coup to establish a state under Sharia law in Azerbaijan and to carry out riots and assassinations, the country's Interior Ministry, State Security Service and Prosecutor General's Office announced on Tuesday.
The alleged cell was organized by Rufulla Akhundzadah and his son Almursal Akhundzadah, who Azerbaijani authorities accuse of working with Iran's security services. The cell aimed to establish a state under Sharia law "by forcefully changing the constitutional structure of the Republic of Azerbaijan by causing armed riots on the territory of the country and organizing assassinations on the lives of well-known and official persons," according to the announcement.
Akhundzadah created groups on WhatsApp, Telegram and other instant messaging services in order to recruit the cell and presented the cell with a list of officials and public figures and their addresses. Akhundzadah allegedly instructed the cell members to obtain firearms and prepare Molotov cocktails.
The members of the cell were identified as Elgun Agayev, Ruslan Aliyev, Yusif Mirzayev, Elvin Jafarov, Savalan Huseynli, Bilal Sujaddinli and Maharrameli Musayev. Additional, unnamed members of the group were arrested as well, according to authorities.
Akhundzadah also allegedly planned to bring the cell to Iran for military training and religious education.
Azerbaijani authorities arrested numerous groups accused of working with Iran
The arrests are the latest in a series of similar arrests of individuals Azerbaijani authorities claim were working with Iranian security services to harm Azerbaijan's national security. Tensions between the two countries have escalated in recent years around a number of issues.
Earlier this month, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry stated that Iran had declared two employees of the Azerbaijani consulate general in Tabriz and its embassy in Tehran "persona-non-grata," about a month after Azerbaijan declared four employees of the Iranian embassy in Baku "persona-non-grata" and expelled them from the country. Iranian officials have not confirmed the claim.
Last month, authorities stated that Akhundzadah had recruited at least six individuals in an attempt to establish a state under Sharia law in Azerbaijan.
Additionally last month, local media claimed that suspects arrested in the shooting of Azerbaijani MP Fazil Mustafa were working on the order of Iranian security forces. Azerbaijani politicians also accused Iran of being behind the shooting.
Tensions between Azerbaijan, Iran continue to rise
Tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran have also risen in light of efforts by Azerbaijan to create a corridor through Armenia to an exclave belonging to Azerbaijan, claims that Israeli intelligence is operating against Iran from Azerbaijan and op-eds by Azerbaijani newspapers encouraging the West Azerbaijan province of Iran to secede and join Azerbaijan.
In January, a gunman shot dead a security guard and wounded two other people at Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran, in an attack Baku branded an "act of terrorism" that it said was the result of Tehran failing to heed its calls for improved security.
Police in Tehran said they had arrested a suspect and Iranian authorities condemned the incident, but said the gunman appeared to have had a personal, not a political motive.