Azerbaijan may be among the most secular, Israel and US-friendly Muslim countries, but the "Innocence of Muslims" movie is taking its toll there, too. Islamic believers on September 28 burned Israeli and US flags in the small town of Nardaran, a conservative hamlet northeast of the capital, Baku.
The protests are unlikely to sway the official position of Baku, which works hard to contain the influence of Islam, is mistrustful of neighboring Iran and looks for closer ties with Washington and Jerusalem. Two days ago, courts in Baku convicted three men in an allegedly Iranian-sponsored plot to assassinate Israeli citizens.
Azerbaijani investigators claimed that the Iranian special services offered $150,000 and provided weapons to a group of Azerbaijani citizens supposedly planning to assassinate a Jewish school headmaster and Israeli dignitaries, reportedly including the Israeli ambassador. The plot was allegedly meant as retaliation for earlier killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.
The man tagged as ringleader, Rasim Aliyev, was sentenced to 14 years in jail, while two other members of the group, Ali Huseynov and Rauf Abilov, received 13 years in prison.
Other members of the group are still wanted by Azerbaijani police.
A friend of Israel and neighbor of Iran, Azerbaijan has reportedly become a staging ground for Israeli-Iranian spy wars that further stretched already strained relations between Baku and Tehran. As an olive branch to Baku, Tehran in August released two Azerbaijani poets imprisoned on espionage charges, accusations viewed as a reprisal against Baku for not siding with Iran in its confrontation with Israel over Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Tehran has not yet responded to the jail sentences in Baku.