DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain said on Sunday it had broken up a banned anti-government Shi‘ite Muslim group behind a series of attacks and arrested several of its members.
The state news agency said an investigation had revealed that Saraya al-Ashtar had been formed in 2012 by two men with the aim of destabilizing the Western-allied kingdom through attacks on security forces. It said the men were now in Iran.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain accuses Shi‘ite Muslim Iran of fomenting unrest among Bahrain’s mostly Shi‘ite opposition. Iran denies the accusation, but does champion the Shi‘ite majority’s cause.
Last year, Bahrain declared Saraya al-Ashtar and two other anti-government groups terrorist organizations, the day after a bomb killed two local policemen and an officer from the United Arab Emirates.
A group calling itself Saraya al-Ashtar claimed responsibility for the attack in a message on social media, although this could not be authenticated.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, was rocked in 2011 by protests demanding greater democracy and more rights for Shi‘ites, many of whom say they are subject to political and economic discrimination. Despite a heavy crackdown on protest, sporadic bursts of unrest by Shi‘ites continued for more than two years, though these have now largely subsided.
The Bahrain News Agency published the names of 14 alleged members of Saraya al-Ashtar. It said 12 were in custody, while the two leaders, whom it named as Ahmed Yousif Sarhan, known as Abumuntadhir, and Jassim Ahmed Abdullah, known as Thualfaqar, were in Iran.
BNA said Sarhan and Abdullah had “facilitated” travel to Iraq for three other members of the group for training in weapons use, hostage taking and bomb making with the Shi‘ite Hezbollah Brigades. It said these three men had been arrested and had confessed.
The agency said investigators had now transferred the case to the prosecutor’s office to begin judicial proceedings.
Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Hadeel Al Sayegh; Editing by Kevin Liffey