3 September RFE

Iranian intelligence active in Azerbaijan

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An unknown number of people broke into the Baku apartment of Piruz Dilenchi, leader of the irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan, on 22 August and tried to kill him, Turan reported.

Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry arrested on 18 August six clerics residing in a district bordering Iran on suspicion of cooperating with Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Turan News Agency reported two days later. Moreover, Baku's former ambassador to Tehran, Aliyar Safarli, alleged that Iran is funding some Azerbaijani political parties and also paying off some government officials, "Yeni Musavat" reported on 2 August.

Such allegations of hostile Iranian actions are noteworthy in light of the late July disruption of relations between Baku and Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 July 2001), although Dilenchi's claims may be little more than an attempt to capitalize on the current atmosphere.

Overall, however, the allegations could be seen within the context of concern about Iranian-backed Islamic fundamentalism that has existed since the creation of an independent Azerbaijan republic and which revived in the last few months. In early May, Azerbaijani Deputy National Security Minister Tofik Babaev claimed that a number of religious organizations sponsored by Iran or Arab countries are engaged in inciting domestic political conflicts with the ultimate aim of seizing power in Azerbaijan. The Iranian embassy rejected Babaev's claims at that time.

The next month, Baku created a state committee to monitor the activities of religious organizations engaged in missionary activity in Azerbaijan. The committee's chief announced that it would introduce stringent regulations to govern the activities of religious organizations and religious activists, as noted in the 16 August 2001 "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." "Extremists dispatched from Tehran" are the primary target of the new state committee, "Vremya Novosti" reported on 25 June, and Azerbaijani intelligence agencies see them as a threat to Azerbaijani statehood. The report also said that religious extremists in Azerbaijan have "direct links with Iranian intelligence."

Baku's "Zerkalo" warned on 24 August that Iran and Russia are working together to fragment the Azerbaijani state. Iran is stoking separatism in the south; Russia is trying to ruin relations between the peoples of northern Azerbaijan through incidents such as the destruction of a statue of Imam Shamil and by granting Russian citizenship to any Azerbaijanis who request it.

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