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Azerbaijan: Baku Wrestles With a Syria-Salafi Connection

Depressed towns like Sumgayit, north of Baku, appear to be sending fighters to Syria. (Photo: Rena Effendi)

As the Syrian civil war nears its third anniversary, Azerbaijanis fighting for militant Islamic groups increasingly feature among those reported killed. While such reports are unsettling to officials in Azerbaijan, non-governmental observers in Baku believe the implications are limited for domestic stability.

The first reports about Azerbaijani citizens fighting in Syria appeared in May 2013. Most of those Azerbaijani citizens who have taken up arms against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime appear to be adherents of Salafism, a puritanical form of Sunni Islam that has its roots in Saudi Arabia.

Of the four Azerbaijani fighters reported killed this month in Syria, three were members of Salafi militant factions with ties to the al Qaeda network. Salafis, also described as Wahhabis in the Azerbaijani press, remain a distinct, urban-concentrated minority in mainly Shi’a Azerbaijan.

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Azerbaijan: Baku Wrestles With a Syria-Salafi Connection

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