Azerbaijan arrested 22 people on suspicion of plotting attacks on the US and Israeli embassies in Baku on behalf of neighboring Iran, the national security ministry said Wednesday.
"Twenty-two citizens of Azerbaijan have been arrested by the national security ministry for cooperating with the Iranian Sepah," it said, referring to the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
"On orders of the Sepah they were to commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other Western states' embassies and the embassies' employees," it said.
The ministry said that the suspects were recruited from 1999 onwards and trained in the use of weapons and spy techniques at military camps in Iran
to enable them to gather information on foreign embassies, organizations and companies in Azerbaijan and stage attacks.
"Firearms, cartridges, explosives and espionage equipment were found during the arrest," the statement said, without specifying when or how the arrests were made.
The arrests come just days after Iran announced it was confident that neighboring Azerbaijan would not allow attacking forces to pass through its territory.
According to the official IRNA news agency, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
told visiting Azerbaijan Defense Minister Gen. Safar Abiyev on Monday, "We are sure that no problem will take place against Iran from (the land of) our friend and brother, Azerbaijan."
Earlier, Abiyev, told reporters Azerbaijan will not act against "great Iran" or allow an attack using its territory. This came after he met his Iranian counterpart, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi.
Ahmadinejad said, "Joint enemies of the two countries seek to stop improvement relations between Tehran and Baku," Azerbaijan's capital. He did not elaborate.
On February 29, Israel
signed a $1.6 billion deal to sell drones, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, bringing Israeli technology to the border of archenemy Iran.
In reaction, Iran summoned Azeri envoy, seeking clarifications about the sale.
On Monday, Abiyev indirectly defended the deal. "Azerbaijan must improve its army, and for this purpose it is obliged to purchase weapons and equipment," he said.
Vahidi announced Iran's readiness to provide the Azeri army with Iranian military products. "We are ready to offer any support that can lead to self-sufficiency of army of Azerbaijan," Vahidi said. He said both countries should avoid any action that could damage security and tranquility in the region.
Iran has expressed concern over alleged Israeli intelligence activity in the oil-rich Caucasian state.
Israel has hinted at an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, charging Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons.
Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are aimed at peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment.
Last month police in Azerbaijan arrested
20 people linked to Iran and to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah
who are suspected of planning attacks in the country.
State broadcaster AzTV, quoting the National Security Ministry, said police had detained people linked to Iranian intelligence services and Hezbollah who intended to stage attacks on foreign citizens in the country.
The report said the suspects had gathered intelligence on targets and bought explosives, guns and ammunition, but gave no further details.
AP contributed to the report
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