Armenia arrests ex-deputy defence minister for links to ‘criminal group’

Armenians genocideArmenia said Saturday it had arrested the nation’s former deputy defence minister on suspicion of ties to a “criminal group” accused of plotting to assassinate politicians in the ex-Soviet republic.

Vahan Shirkhanyan, deputy defence minister from 1995-1999, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of “being a member in the criminal group” accused of plotting the assassination of public figures, a National Security Agency statement said.

Last month, the agency said it had “uncovered and neutralised an organised criminal group” which was plotting attacks in the capital Yerevan, targeting political and public figures, citizens and state bodies.

Twenty-one members of the group were arrested on November 25, including alleged ringleader Artur Vartanyan, an Armenian national who has lived in Spain since 1997 and visited Syria “in the past,” the agency said.

Explosives, grenade launchers, and submachine guns were found in a house the group rented in central Yerevan, with the agency saying officials would probe Vartanyan’s “possible links to the Islamic State group.”

The tiny Caucasus nation of some three million people has a history of political violence.

In the most controversial event of Armenia’s post-Soviet history, five gunmen seized the country’s parliament in October 1999 and shot dead the prime minister and parliament speaker as well as several other prominent politicians.

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