Azerbaijan foiled a bid to stage “terrorist” attacks while it was hosting the Eurovision Song Contest last weekend and arrested dozens of suspected plotters, the security ministry said.
“The main goal of the group was to stage terrorist acts in Baku during Eurovision,” the National Security Ministry said in a statement. “As a result of the measures taken, 40 members of the group were arrested.”
The group was planning attacks on the concert hall where the Eurovision was held, on Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, police buildings, hotels used by foreigners, mosques and other religious sites in the ex-Soviet state, it said.
The plotters “obtained Eurovision tickets with the aim of [committing] a terrorist act at the Baku Crystal Hall” where the song competition was held, it said.
They intended to target the luxury Hilton and Marriott hotels in the mainly Muslim state’s capital Baku by blowing up cars packed with explosives, according to the statement.
Britain’s Eurovision entrant Engelbert Humperdinck and France’s Anggun were among those staying at the Hilton during the competition, and the hotel was also used for press conferences.
Jedward, Germany’s Roman Lob and Aliyev’s son-in-law Emin Agalarov, who sang at the contest’s interval, also visited the hotel during the contest, photographs on the Hilton’s Facebook page showed.
The suspects were also allegedly planning to hit the oil-rich country’s strongman leader Aliyev during his visit to Azerbaijan’s north-western regions last month.
Security services detained the alleged gang during operations in the cities of Baku, Ganja and Sumgayit as well as several other regions of the country, the ministry said without giving dates.
Some of the alleged plotters put up armed resistance and two suspects were killed, both of them Azerbaijani citizens, the statement said.
Police seized 13 assault rifles, one machine gun, 12 handguns, three rifles, 3,400 rounds of bullets, 62 hand grenades, and several kilograms of explosives.
The plot was said to have been hatched during a meeting between three of the suspects and what the statement described as “Dagestani emirs” across the border in the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan in Feb 2011.
“The goal was to create an atmosphere of anarchy, to spread panic among citizens,” the ministry said.
After the attacks, the group was planning to hide in the forests of Dagestan and wait for more armed militants to join them, it said.
Eurovision, watched by more than 100 million people worldwide, was the biggest cultural event staged in Azerbaijan since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The authorities spent hundreds of millions building the Crystal Hall venue and beautifying the capital ahead of the competition in an attempt to win acclaim for the Caspian Sea state previously known mainly as an energy exporter on Europe’s eastern fringe.
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