|The Baku's Crystal Hall, target of the Iranian terrorists [Image Source]|
Associated Press is reporting this afternoon that a court in Azerbaijan has sentenced 22 people to lengthy jail terms for assisting Iran's Revolutionary Guards in preparing terrorist plots against the U.S. and Israeli embassies as well as against Western companies. Jail terms of between 10 and 15 years were imposed on the defendants. The charges included treason and the unlawful possession of weapons.
When arrests were made in March 2012, news services said the planned targets included diplomatic missions, the offices of a Jewish organization, the local headquarters of oil company BP and an American-themed fast food restaurant.
Then five months ago, AP reported that the Azerbaijan authorities had thwarted a terror attack by groups with ties to Al-Qaida and Iran against a range of targets including: Baku Crystal Hall which was the site for this year's Eurovision Song Contest; the Marriot and Hilton hotels in the capital, Baku; religious pilgrimage sites; and police stations, as well as an assassination attempt on President Ilham Aliyev in April. Weapons seized included 13 assault rifles, one machine gun, 12 handguns, three rifles, 3,400 rounds of bullets, 62 hand grenades, and several kilograms of explosives.
Azerbaijan, a Moslem-majority country of 9 million people and substantial oil wealth, faces significant challenges that stem from its being physically located between between Russia and Iran while having a strong interest in friendly relations with the West.