Monday, December 3, 2012

Azerbaijani court jails four Muslims plotting "terrorist attacks" during Eurovision contest

BAKU (Reuters) - Four foreign-trained Islamists were sentenced to up to 14 years in jail in Azerbaijan on Monday for plotting "terrorist attacks" on the eve of this year's Eurovision song contest in Baku, the latest crackdown on militancy in the oil-rich state.

After 70 years of Soviet-rule, most Azeris have a relaxed attitude towards religion, but Azerbaijan, a NATO ally bordering Iran on the Caspian Sea, says it is combating increasing Islamist extremism with ties to Tehran.

A court official who declined to be named told Reuters the four were sentenced to between 12 and 14 years in jail for crimes including treason, plotting terrorist attacks, arms smuggling and having links with Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Security forces killed the group's alleged leader in an operation in April and the other members of the group were arrested a month before Baku hosted Eurovision in May.

The Security Ministry said those arrested had been trained in Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and some had fought NATO troops in Afghanistan. As is usual in Azerbaijan, the court proceedings were closed to the public.