Baku says attack on Eurovision foiled
AZERBAIJAN CLAIMS to have foiled a plot by Islamist militants to attack last weekend’s Eurovision song contest and assassinate the country’s autocratic president, Ilham Aliyev.
“The armed group intended to mount terrorist attacks in several regions of Azerbaijan, creating a mood of powerlessness and lawlessness, sowing panic, ethnic and religious enmity, disrupting the public peace and damaging Azerbaijan’s international image,” the country’s national security ministry said in a statement.
It claimed police had arrested 40 militants with links to rebels in the restive Russian region of Dagestan, which borders northern Azerbaijan, and had seized a large cache of weapons.
Officials said the group sought to get tickets for Eurovision with the intention of exploding a bomb inside the Crystal Hall, which was specially built to host the event.
They also allegedly planned to plant bombs at major international hotels where Eurovision contestants and other foreign visitors were staying, and to blow up major landmarks and religious sites in the capital, Baku, and elsewhere in the country of 9 million people.
The attack on Mr Aliyev, whose regime tolerates little public dissent, was scheduled to take place while he was visiting a region close to the Azeri border with Dagestan, the ministry claimed.
It was not clear when the alleged militants were captured, or whether they were linked to other supposed rebels who were arrested in recent weeks.
Officials had not previously mentioned any plot to kill Mr Aliyev, and said the group’s plans had been kept secret during Eurovision so as not to cause alarm.
In the weeks leading up to the contest, Azerbaijan claimed to have arrested and killed militants who planned to launch attacks before the event, which the country hoped to use to promote itself to foreign tourists and investors and to offset criticism of its rights record.
Recent months have also seen a sharp deterioration in relations between Azerbaijan and its southern neighbour, Iran. Tehran has accused Baku of helping Israel assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. It recalled its ambassador from Azerbaijan on the eve of Eurovision, which some Iranian clerics characterised as a gay pride event.
Azerbaijan has arrested dozens of alleged Iranian agents, some of whom were supposedly planning attacks on Jewish and US targets in Baku. This week, a senior Iranian official was refused entry to Azerbaijan at Baku airport.