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40 held over Eurovision terror plot

Security services in Azerbaijan say they arrested 40 suspects and seized weapons as they thwarted a series of planned terror attacks against the Eurovision Song Contest.

Targets included the song contest venue and major hotels housing foreigners, the National Security Ministry said.

Azerbaijan has in recent months reported being the target of terrorist activities planned by groups with ties to al Qaida and Iran, and this appears to be most extravagant alleged plot revealed to date.

An oil-rich nation of nine million people wedged between Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan has nurtured close relations with the United States and played an active role in Western-led counter-terrorist programmes.

That policy has placed a strain on its ties with Iran, which hosts a sizeable ethnic Azeri community.

The statement said other plots included plans for an assassination attempt on President Ilham Aliyev in April, as well as attacks on religious pilgrimage sites and police stations.

Officials said 40 people have been arrested. Weapons seized included 13 assault rifles, one machine gun, 12 handguns, three rifles, 3,400 rounds of bullets, 62 hand grenades, and several kilograms of explosives. The statement provided no details on when the arrests took place.

The Eurovision attack would have centred on the Baku Crystal Hall, where the singing competition took place on Saturday. Other planned targets included Marriot and Hilton hotels in the capital, Baku.

At least one suspected plotter, 37-year-old Azerbaijani citizen Vugar Padarov, and a security agent were killed during raids to shut down the terrorist group, the statement said.

Padarov was identified in an April security statement as the leader of a group that had received religious training in Syria. Some of its members had weapons training with the Jihad Islami group in Pakistan and took part in fighting Nato-led troops in Afghanistan, the National Security Ministry said.

www.eurovision.tv(Eurovision Song Contest)

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