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JIHADIST groups are believed to have been present in Azerbaijan since at least February, it was claimed today, with Turkey accused of shipping in militia, including the Uighur Muslim terror group the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP).
The Islamist fighters are thought to have been mobilised from their bases in Syria to join Azeri forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where they are fighting against Armenia.
Despite Turkey initially denying the presence of the jihadists, film footage and photographs have since corroborated reports which began circulating in the Syrian press in August.
The Morning Star reported on the mobilisation of Turkish troops in July when tensions flared between the two Caucasus nations.
Ankara was accused of a “dangerous provocation” after its armed forces joined their Azeri counterparts for war games exercises close to the Armenian border.
It was reported that Turkey shipped fighters from the Syrian National Army into Azerbaijan during the military operations, with many wearing Turkish army uniforms and staying in the same barracks.
The news was picked up by the mainstream media in late September when it was confirmed that hundreds of jihadists had been flown into Azerbaijan and were paid as much as $2,000 (£1,530) a month to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
But according to the latest reports, Islamist groups are thought to have been present in Azerbaijan as early as February.
Members of the Armenian diaspora in the Syrian city of Aleppo claim that mercenaries were sent by Turkey on buses belonging to the Aras transport company arriving in the Azeri regions of Nakhichivan and Sumgait in February and March.
Aleppo-based freelance journalist Armen Tigrankert reported that the Uighur jihadists from the TIP, formerly known as the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), were also mobilised by Ankara.
TIP is designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU, UN and US, among other countries.
Affiliated to al-Qaida, it seeks to establish a caliphate called East Turkestan to replace China’s Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region. TIP is accused of carrying out more than 200 terror attacks in the region between 1990 and 2001, killing more than 400 people.
The group sent fighters to join the myriad of jihadist groups in Syria as they sought to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
TIP has a base in the city of Jisr al-Shughur in the Syrian province of Idlib, which remains under the control of Turkish-affiliated militants.
Its fighters were reportedly given military training in the province before 30 Uighurs and their families were flown on a Turkish Airlines flight from the Turkish city of Antakya in Hatay province to the Azeri capital Baku.
According to reports, the Uighur fighters are paid just $500 (£382) to $700 (£535) per month by the Turkish state, significantly lower than those from other militia including the Sultan Murad Brigade.
Battle continues to rage between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh after a third ceasefire broke down minutes after it was implemented on Monday.
Azeri forces have been accused of war crimes, including the use of banned cluster bombs and the beheading of a captured Armenian soldier.
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