Azerbaijani Convict Fought Beside al-Qaida

The Associated Press

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) - The government in this tightly controlled
former Soviet republic said Thursday that the leader of a group of
six men convicted last month on charges of plotting terror attacks
once fought alongside al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Amiraslan Iskendrov, who was convicted in a closed trial on Feb. 7
along with five other suspects and sentenced to 14 years in prison,
spent time in Afghanistan from 1999 to 2003 and fought in the ranks
of Osama bin Laden's terrorist group there, the Security Ministry
said in a statement.

After the trial, authorities did not name the men convicted, saying
only that they were followers of Wahhabi Islam, bin Laden's spiritual
underpinning and dominant in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

According to the Security Ministry, Iskendrov returned from Afghanistan
and began recruiting mostly young people to join a militant group. It
said the group was planning for terrorist attacks, including by
conducting surveillance of crowded areas, the offices and homes of
foreigners and government and law enforcement facilities.

In arresting the six alleged group members, authorities confiscated
large amounts of explosives, detonators and grenades as well as
literature and audio and videotapes containing terrorist propaganda,
the statement said.

Political tensions have grown in Azerbaijan - an oil-rich, mainly
Muslim country on the Caspian Sea - since an October 2003 election in
which Ilham Aliev replaced his father, longtime leader Geidar Aliev,
as president. The opposition said the vote was marred by fraud.

Geidar Aliev, who died in December, voiced support for democratic
reforms but also employed authoritarian means to stay in power. His
son has vowed to follow the same policies.