By Hasmik Mkrtchyan


YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia's national security service arrested an opposition activist on weapon smuggling charges on Wednesday, in a move critics say is politically motivated.


Samvel Babayan, who served as a former defense minister of neighboring Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region from 1994-2000, was arrested with two others for smuggling Igla anti-aircraft missile system parts, the security service said.


"We have gathered trustworthy information that the individuals responsible for the acquisition and transportation of the parts of the mentioned anti-aircraft missile system operated in line with an in-advance agreement with Samvel Babayan and upon his request," it said in a statement.


The security service said the system was smuggled from neighboring Georgia and that it was in an operational state.

Babayan is an active supporter, but not a member, of opposition bloc "Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanyan", which is led by Armenia's former defense minister Seyran Ohanyan and two former foreign ministers - Raffi Hovannisyan and Vardan Oskanyan.

The group described Babayan's arrest as a "provocation" ahead of a parliamentary election in Armenia on April 2.

"This behavior exercised by the government is aimed at spreading the atmosphere of fear and affecting the results of the elections in an illegal way," the bloc said in a statement.

Babayan was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2000 for an alleged assassination attempt on Nagorno-Karabakh's former leader Arkady Gukasyan.

He was released in 2004 and moved to Russia before relocating to Armenia in 2016.

(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Julia Glover)