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Azerbaijan arrests 22 suspected of plotting to attack US, Israeli Embassies

Authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested 22 Azeri citizens suspected of spying for Iran and plotting to attack Western embassies and companies, the National Security Ministry said on Wednesday.

The arrests come two months after two men were arrested in Azerbaijan, Iran's northern neighbor, on suspicion of plotting to attack foreigners, including the Israeli ambassador and a rabbi, and after bomb plots in India, Thailand and Georgia that Israel blamed on Tehran.

The ministry said the arrested people had links with Iran's Revolutionary Guards (Sepah) and their alleged targets included the U.S. and Israeli Embassies as well as British oil major BP.

Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim country, is home to more than 9,000 Jews and has friendly ties with Israel and the United States. A major energy producer, it exports oil to Israel and imports weapons and military hardware.

"Twenty-two citizens of Azerbaijan have been arrested by the national security ministry for cooperating with the Iranian Sepah," the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

"On orders of the Sepah they were to commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other Western states' embassies and the embassies' employees.

"Sepah wanted to set a special contingent in Azerbaijan under a cover of religious activity," the ministry said, adding that the suspects were equipped with rifles, grenades, detonators and "special equipment for spying."

The suspects are suspected of gathering information to be used against Azeri security services, recruiting others to spy for Iranian intelligence and creating ammunition depots around the country.

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have soured in recent months as Tehran accused its neighbor of assisting Israeli intelligence in the murder of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel has not commented on accusations it was behind the assassinations.

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