Baku, Azerbaijan
Baku, Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijani government said Tuesday it has uncovered a terror cell within its borders with links to Iran and Lebanon.

The state TV channel AzTV reported that the Ministry of National Security believes the group is connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Sepah, as well as to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is financed by Iran.

Both Sepaj and Hezbollah are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S.

AzTV said authorities have arrested a number of the terror group’s members, adding that they were planning attacks on the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Baku, the capital.

The suspects had acquired a large cache of weapons and explosives.

Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic that borders northwestern Iran, has long had contentious relations with its Persian neighbors. As an ally of both Israel and the U.S., Baku has earned Tehran’s enmity. Azerbaijan and Iran have recently traded accusations – Iran protested alleged Israel intelligence activity in Azerbaijan, while Baku claimed to have thwarted an Iranian-backed terror attack against an Israeli envoy in the country.

Baku officials have reportedly also arrested 20 members of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, an illegal organization believed to be linked to Iran. In addition, according to the Azeri Interior Ministry, a journalist employed by Iran’s Fars news agency was arrested for drug possession.

Ironically, Azeris and Iranians have much in common -- they are ethnically similar, and unlike much of the Muslim world, they both practice Shia Islam.