Bahrain’s Interior Ministry stated on Sunday that it thwarted a mass Iranian terror attack plot, local media outlets reported.
“The Interior Ministry managed to thwart a massive terrorist plot in the Kingdom of Bahrain that was backed and funded by Iran and members of the terrorist Revolutionary Guard Corps,” a statement by the Bahraini newspaper Akhbar Al-Khaleej said.
However, on Monday, Baharain said that the plot was thwarted in early 2020, only hours after Saudi state television and Bahraini news reports implied the plot was new in their reporting Sunday night, just days after the island kingdom normalized relations with Israel.
Sources said that Iranian agents infiltrated the country and were planning multiple attacks in Bahraini public and national security sites. They had carried out surveillance on various strategic sites, including oil depots, and had explosives in their possession. They were planning to launch attacks on diplomats and foreigners as well as assassinate bodyguards of Bahraini officials. Authorities uncovered the plot after finding an explosive on the street believed to have been planted to target a “foreign delegation” and Bahraini police found assault rifles and explosives in raids of the defendants’ homes.
An indictment has been filed against 18 defendants but nine agents managed to escape after their plans were discovered. The remaining nine agents have been arrested.
It wasn’t clear when all the arrests and alleged plots took place, as the Akhbar Al-Khaleej report referred to incidents dating as far back as 2017. The newspaper linked the militants to the al-Ashtar Brigade, a Shiite group that has claimed responsibility for a number of bombings and attacks in Bahrain, including two that killed police. The group has been sanctioned by the U.S.
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry later published what it described as a “clarification” saying the cases dated to the start of the year and “is not new.” However, media is tightly controlled on the island and access to such trials is routinely limited, suggesting authorities at the least encouraged the initial reporting.
The island kingdom of Bahrain is the host of a base for the U.S. 5th Fleet, which is responsible for the naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean.
Officials have worried in the past that the sailors and Marines attached to the base in Manama could be targeted, as well as others who make up the 7,000 American troops there. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet, declined to comment and referred questions to the Bahraini government.
Iran under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had pushed to take over Bahrain after the British left the country, although Bahrainis in 1970 overwhelmingly supported becoming an independent nation and the U.N. Security Council unanimously backed that. Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Bahrain’s rulers have blamed Iran for arming militants on the island. Iran denies the accusations.
Bahrain’s Shiite majority long has accused its Sunni rulers of treating them like second-class citizens. They joined pro-democracy activists in demanding more political freedoms in 2011, as Arab Spring protests swept the wider Middle East. Saudi and Emirati troops ultimately helped violently put down the demonstrations.
Bahrain promised change after the protests. But in recent years, Bahrain has cracked down on all dissent, imprisoned activists and hampered independent reporting on the island. Militant groups like the al-Ashtar Brigade have launched small, sporadic attacks amid that crackdown.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)