By Fuad Huseinzadeh
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has issued an executive order to award a group of officers of the Ministry of National Security for their bravery in a special operation carried out in Ganja.
Under the order, Lieutenant-Colonel Elshad Guliyev has been posthumously decorated with the “Azerbaijan’s Flag” order, while other officers of the “Gartal” special task group have been decorated with the following medals: “For Motherland,” “For Bravery” and “For Military Merits.” The “Gartal” special task group of the Ministry of National Security carried out operations in Ganja last weekend and incapacitated members of the armed group that planned to commit provocative acts and terrorist attacks with the view of violating socio-political stability and raise panic.
As a result of the special operations carried out in Baku, Ganja and Sumgayit, as well as in Gakh, Zagatala, Sheki and Gusar regions, the Azeri authorities collected troves of terrorist paraphernalia. The caches seized included four AK 47-type submachine guns, an RPK-rocket launcher, two Makarov pistols, one revolver-type pistol, one Stechkin pistol, a rifle, six full pistol clips, and 300 cartridges of ammunition of various calibers, as well as 31 hand grenades and 15 explosive devices with remote control, three detonators, a large number of explosive plastics, three clips for a submachine gun, 30 Kenwood hand-held portable radio transmitters, three bayonet-knives, and last but not least a lot of literature that promotes terrorism and jihad (https://pda.trend.az/en/2011589.html).
According to unofficial information, the members of the group are believed to be either Wahhabis or belong to the so-called “Forest Brothers,” a radical group that is planning the creation of a “Sharia state” in the Caucasus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Azerbaijan). This guerrilla group has been labeled as a sort of band of Caucasian “Robin Hoods.” For several years they have been destabilizing the situation in the Caucasus, committing terrorist attacks against police and civilians alike.
Links to the North Caucasus
In light of these events one can make certain assumptions about who might be behind the recent actions of the Forest Brothers group. Almost all of the latest incidents have occurred close to the Russian border. Most detainees have Lezgin names and have ties to Dagestan (Russian Federation). Moreover, some officials in the Azerbaijani opposition, citing their own sources in the security services, have revealed some interesting information. Vugar Padarov, one of the militants who blew himself up, supposedly for the last five years has been listed as a dead man. According to reports, in 2007 he was arrested in Russia for murder, and after a while, died under unknown circumstances. Sources claim that these “dead souls” are actively used by the Russian security services to destabilize the situation in the northern regions of Azerbaijan (https://www.musavat.com/new/Gündəm/121524-GƏNCƏDƏ_ÖLDÜRÜLƏN_TERRORÇUNUN_ŞOK_HEKAYƏTİ).
This raises a set of interesting questions about whether Moscow might have had a hand in the attack. There are a lot of issues over which Russia is irritated with Azerbaijan – Azerbaijan’s state policy of integration with the West, active military contacts with Israel and Western countries, a growing rapprochement with Turkey, Baku’s loyalty to the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. All these steps of Russia’s independent small neighbor, formerly a part of the Russian Empire, should anger Moscow and might have pushed Russia to having a hidden hand in the attack in Ganja.
It should be noted that Russia is not the only country that worries about the policies of Azerbaijan. Iran, another of Azerbaijan’s neighbors, also is greatly concerned about the country’s pro-Western direction. The tense situation is exacerbated by the numerous rumors of a possible war of the West against Iran. It is clear that the much-publicized article in the US publication Foreign Policy(https://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/28/israel_s_secret_staging_ground) concerning Israel’s intention to use the territory of Azerbaijan to bomb nuclear sites in Iran does not improve relations between Tehran and Baku. As a result, since the beginning of 2012, Azerbaijani security forces defused at least three armed groups that had links to the Iranian secret services and were plotting terrorist attacks against American and Israeli citizens on the territory of Azerbaijan (https://news.az/articles/society/55124).
Azerbaijan, a small independent republic with a large Jewish community and sandwiched between Russia and Iran, remains in a difficult situation. Until now, the Azerbaijani security services have successfully coped with the neutralization of various criminal groups linked to neighboring states. However, the array of potential threats is increasing on the eve of the “Eurovision” song contest in Baku. Therefore, Azerbaijan is very much in need of greater security and counter-terrorism assistance from its Western partners. In recent days, the Azerbaijani press has already reported about an agreement between Azerbaijan and Israel on the participation of “Mossad” in ensuring security during the upcoming Eurovision contest that will take place at the end of May (https://pda.trend.az/en/2009284.html).