Overview: Azerbaijan maintained its strong counterterrorism cooperation with the United States and actively opposed terrorist organizations seeking to move people, money, and materiel through the Caucasus region. The country remained focused on counterterrorism efforts that included prosecuting individuals under statutes related to terrorism, arresting foreign terrorist fighters returning to Azerbaijan from conflicts abroad, and conducting special operations against those the government said were planning terrorist attacks.
Azerbaijan indicated its continued strong willingness to counter ISIS by sharing information, working to disrupt the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to Iraq and Syria, and countering illicit funding of terrorist groups in those countries. Senior government leaders, including the heads of the Caucasus Muslim Board and the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations, took public steps to counter ISIS and al-Qa’ida ideology. They and other senior government representatives repeatedly condemned international terrorist attacks that occurred during 2016.
On September 17, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and other leaders attending the Commonwealth of Independent States Heads of State Council meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, jointly approved a program on cooperation in the fight against terrorism and other forms of violent extremism for 2017-2019. President Aliyev also participated in discussions at the NATO Warsaw Summit on July 8-9 on measures to counter violent extremism.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Azerbaijan continued to use counterterrorism legislation, first adopted in 1999, that governs the investigation and prosecution of individuals who have committed or plan to commit terrorist acts.
As the country’s primary law enforcement agency, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has responsibilities for fighting terrorism. Specific counterterrorism actions are taken through the Ministry’s Organized Crime Unit. The Prosecutor General’s Office maintains responsibility for prosecuting individuals for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, conspiracy to aid terrorism, and other terrorism-related crimes.
Azerbaijan’s State Security Service (SSS) cooperates closely with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General’s Office on counterterrorism. Following a 2015 presidential decree, the Azerbaijani government in 2016 abolished the Ministry of National Security and split it into two new organizations, the SSS and the Foreign Intelligence Service. Among other duties, the SSS is charged with identifying and preventing criminal activities by terrorist groups, and countering international terrorism and transnational crimes.
The Azerbaijani government has demonstrated the ability to detect and deter terrorist activities, as well as prosecute foreign terrorist fighters returning to Azerbaijan. Authorities effectively use terrorist and criminal watch lists and biographic/biometric information to screen travelers at ports of entry. Azerbaijani security services effectively share information within the government and with other countries. Collection of Advance Passenger Information and Passenger Name Records on commercial flights occurred on some flights.
Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies continued to investigate, prosecute, and sentence those the government accused of fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, and conducted counterterrorism operations against suspected terrorists within Azerbaijan.
In 2016, the government terminated the citizenship of 58 individuals accused of involvement in terrorist activities outside the country.
The government has continued to prosecute 17 suspects arrested during a November 2015 law enforcement operation in the village of Nardaran, about 15 miles north of the capital, Baku. The government has charged former political prisoner and religious activist Taleh Bagirzade (also referred to in media reports as Taleh Bagirov) and others with plotting to overthrow the government. The government alleged that Bagirzade and his associates were storing ammunition and explosives in Nardaran, which officers seized during the raid. During the operation, five village residents were killed, along with two police officers. Government officials alleged that radical individuals and groups within Nardaran have long been advocating establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state and claim these groups have received support from governments and fundamentalist-backed entities outside the country. Many democracy and human rights advocates believe the arrests were arbitrary due to lack of evidence. Observers of the trial have noted frequent violations of due process, as well as numerous inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case. The trial was ongoing at the end of 2016.
Throughout the year, there were reports of terrorist acts being prevented in Azerbaijan; however, it is unclear whether some of these preventative actions were taken against bona fide terrorist threats or were designed to curb the activities of heretofore non-violent independent religious activists.
On February 12, the SSS arrested eight suspects in a counterterrorism operation. Several of those were convicted and sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges.
On October 27, the SSS announced that its officers had conducted raids in which two men suspected of planning terrorist attacks in Azerbaijan were killed and a third was wounded. The SSS said in a statement that the men had created an armed group in Azerbaijan and pledged allegiance to terrorist groups involved in armed conflicts outside Azerbaijan.
On November 16, a court in Baku convicted seven Azerbaijani citizens on charges they fought in Iraq and Syria alongside militants from ISIS and other terrorist groups. The court sentenced the defendants to prison sentences ranging from two to 14 years.
On November 25, one terrorist suspect, Ramiq Rahimov, was killed during an SSS operation in Azerbaijan’s Khachmaz District. Rahimov was suspected of leading a terrorist organization involved in armed conflicts outside Azerbaijan and of recruiting Azerbaijani citizens to fight abroad. An SSS statement said Rahimov had illegally acquired firearms and explosives and planned to carry out terrorist attacks and kidnappings.
On December 3, SSS officers killed a man the government said was carrying an explosive device and planned to commit acts of terrorism on Azerbaijan’s territory. The SSS said in a statement that officers tried to arrest Emin Jami near a shopping center in Baku, and killed him when he presented a threat to the SSS officers. Jami had, according to the government, sworn “allegiance to representatives of international terrorist organizations and illegal militias involved in conflicts abroad.” Jami had previously served nine years in prison for membership in a terrorist group and, according to an SSS statement, had resumed contact with other Azerbaijani violent extremists fighting in conflict zones and preparing terrorist activities in Azerbaijan.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. The government’s Financial Monitoring Service (FMS) is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.
Azerbaijan has continued its efforts to increase its capability in anti-money laundering/ countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) since it was last assessed by MONEYVAL in 2014. Azerbaijan has established a framework for asset freezing and requires financial institutions to conduct customer due diligence and report suspicious transactions to the FMS. Its legal framework to criminalize terrorist financing does not cover all aspects of the offense, however, and not all non-financial institutions are required to report suspicious transactions, presenting a further vulnerability in its AML/CFT framework.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The State Committee on Work with Religious Associations, together with the Azerbaijan-based Caucasus Muslims Office, took steps to encourage religious leaders to counter calls to violence in religious sermons in some mosques.
International and Regional Cooperation: Azerbaijan remained a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and other international organizations. Azerbaijan also continued to work with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on counterterrorism initiatives.