Iran General NewsAzerbaijan arrests 'Iranian-backed Islamists'

Azerbaijan arrests ‘Iranian-backed Islamists’

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AFP: Police in Azerbaijan have arrested three Islamic activists who were seeking to install a theocracy in the mainly Muslim ex-Soviet republic with funding from Iranian radicals, officials said Friday.

BAKU, August 12, 2011 (AFP) – Police in Azerbaijan have arrested three Islamic activists who were seeking to install a theocracy in the mainly Muslim ex-Soviet republic with funding from Iranian radicals, officials said Friday.

The deputy chairman of the banned Azerbaijani Islamic Party, Arif Ganiyev, the editor of the news website islam-azeri.az, Ramin Bayramov, and an alleged religious protest organiser, Abgyul Suleymanov, were detained on Thursday.

The National Security Ministry and the prosecutor’s office said that they had plotted to disrupt public order and tried to incite civil disobedience after receiving money from the Iranian cultural centre in Baku to create a radical Islamist group.

They said that the website had been set up to further the group’s aim of replacing Azerbaijan’s secular regime with a Muslim theocracy and that Suleymanov had organised Islamist protests outside Western embassies in Baku.

Police found guns, hand grenades and drugs during searches that acccompanied the arrests, they said.

The arrests came a week after the leader of the Islamic Party and six other activists went on trial for allegedly trying to overthrow the government.

Party leader Movsum Samedov was detained in January after calling on his supporters to oust the authorities, accusing them of violating religious rights.

The Islamic Party of Azerbaijan was outlawed in 1995 and its former leaders were jailed on charges of conspiring with the intelligence services in neighbouring Iran to overthrow the government.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan is a mainly Shiite Muslim country, but after decades of Soviet rule it emerged as one of the most secular states in the Islamic world and has become an important supplier of oil and gas to Europe.

The authorities have sought to regulate religious practices in recent years in an attempt to prevent the rise of Islamic extremism.

But Muslim critics have accused them of persecuting devout believers and there have been a series of protests this year against a law which effectively bans the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, in schools.

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