Much discussion of ‘foreign fighters’ tends to focus either on destination zones; Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and to a lesser extent Yemen and the Sahel or the country of origins of those involved in the networks. European, Middle Eastern, and North African nationals and residents are all well documented. On 4 February 2012, The Long War Journal ran a story about the death of an Azerbaijani ‘foreign fighter’. The story was originally carried by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. This is not the first time Azerbaijani nationals have been reported as operating as ‘foreign fighters’ in Afghanistan. In February 2010, Azerbaijani press carried a report on the arrest of an individual it identified as Saraj (aka Abdul Wahid) who had been detained by the Afghan intelligence service in late December 2009.
In early December 2009, Azerbaijani press had already reported on another Azerbaijani ‘foreign fighter’, Azer Misirkhanov (aka Abdulla aka Abu Omar Azeri). He was reported as having been killed in Afganistan in November 2009. Prior to his death in Afghanistan, Misirkhanov had been arrested in Azerbaijan in 2001 for “illegally crossing the border”. At some point he appears to have been released and became involved in a network planning acts of violence in Azerbaijan.
Investigations in 2008 by the Azerbaijan authorities led to the dismantling of what press named the “Forest group” and which had been involved in planning an attack on the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline. The 31 members of the group were tried and testimony suggested that Misirkhanov had previously met others in the group while with an entity named as the “Karabakh partisans” in 2000-2001. Another individual stated he had previously fought in Chechnya against the Russians.
Yet another member of the group, Samir Mehdiyev, was reported to have been involved in an attack on the Abu Bakr mosque on in August 2008. Press stated that he was arrested in January 2010 and extradited from Pakistan in March of the same year. After having fled Azerbaijan, Mehdiyev is alleged to have received support from facilitators in Georgia before traveling on to Pakistan.
In June 2010 the members of the “Forest group” were found guilty and were given sentences ranging from 3 to 15 years.
In August 2010, the Azerbaijani authorities indicated that they had submitted 30 arrest warrants to Interpol for individuals wanted in connection to terrorism. A review of the warrants issued by Azerbaijan for terrorist related activity by Azerbaijani citizens on the Interpol website suggests that some maybe involved in ‘foreign fighter’ networks in Afghanistan given that one of the languages they are listed as speaking is “pashto”.
The above is a mere glance at a topic that merits more attention in relation to the radicalisation processes in Azerbaijan as well as the dynamics of moving from organising violence locally to participation in ‘foreign fighter’ networks in Afghanistan.