BAKU, March 29 (Reuters) - Azerbaijan said on Monday it had detained eight people including a Chechen man on suspicion of planning “terrorist acts” against a school and kindergarten in the capital of the oil-producing Caucasus state.
Secular authorities in mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, a tightly controlled former Soviet republic, are concerned over what they say is the rising influence of radical Islam and the threat posed to the country’s oil-fuelled economic growth.
Some analysts warn of potential spillover from an insurgency in neighbouring Russia’s mainly Muslim southern republics, where suspicion fell on Monday after two female suicide bombers blew themselves up on the Moscow metro killing 38 people.
Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry said police had arrested eight members of an “organised criminal group, crossing illegally from Georgia into Azerbaijan with the aim of carrying out terrorist acts”.
A ministry statement said seven were Azeris, including three women, and the eighth was from Russia’s southern Chechnya republic.
It said the group had earlier concealed weapons and ammunition in the roof of a kindergarten and a school in the capital Baku and planned to attack both. The suspected ringleader is still at large, it added.
Azerbaijan — host to oil majors including BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron — says it has thwarted a number of plots by Islamic militants, including planned attacks on Western embassies.
Critics say authorities under hardline President Ilham Aliyev have exploited the alleged plots to pursue a heavy-handed crackdown on Muslim worshippers. (Reporting by Lada Yevgrashina; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Alison Williams)