Azerbaijan has closed a mosque linked to Iran’s Supreme Leader, AFP reported on Tuesday, citing Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
The move comes days after Tehran launched war games near the Iran-Azerbaijan border in a move denounced by Baku.
“The mosque and representative office of Seyyed Ali Akbar Ojaghnejad, representative of Supreme Leader (Ayatollah) Ali Khamenei in Baku, were sealed and closed today by order of the authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” Tasnim said on Tuesday, without giving further details.
Ojaghnejad has held the post since 1996, according to the website of his office, which is located inside the mosque.
Azerbaijan’s interior ministry spokesman Eskhan Zahidov said in a statement that the move was necessary because of “a surge in COVID-19 cases in several locations in Baku” and that the mosque’s operation had been “suspended temporarily.”
Iran’s embassy in Baku said in a statement on Tuesday that it had followed up on the matter via diplomatic channels, adding that there had been no advanced warning of the move.
Iran's national army last week began exercises near its border with Azerbaijan, with the participation of artillery, drones and helicopters.
The drills began after Iran claimed that Israel had a presence in Azerbaijan. Iran's Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, had told Azerbaijan's ambassador that his country would not tolerate Israel's presence or activity "next to our borders" and vowed to take any necessary action.
Azerbaijan's foreign ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva said Monday that Iran's claims were groundless.
Azerbaijan and Iran have long been at loggerheads over Tehran's backing of Armenia in the decades-long Karabakh conflict.
Azerbaijan, which has bilateral ties with Israel, opened a trade representation office in Israel earlier this year.
Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov recently praised the ties between his country and Israel.