DUBAI (Reuters) - Twenty-four people face trial in Bahrain for trying to set up a branch of the Islamic State militant group and promoting the overthrow of the Gulf Arab state’s monarchy, the public prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday.
Bahrain was swept by protests during the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings in which the Shi’ite majority demanded political reforms from the Sunni Muslim ruling family. Some Shi’ites faced accusations of militancy related to the unrest.
The new case was the first time Bahrain named the Sunni Islamic State in connection with alleged militancy inside the island kingdom, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet as a bulwark against Shi’ite Iran across the Gulf.
Eight of the 24 accused have been arrested and the rest remain at large, according to a statement by Public Prosecutor Ahmed al-Hammadi. Other charges included weapons possession and conducting training in the use of explosives, it said.
The statement said prosecutors had evidence that one of the accused had recruited two others to join Islamic State and travel to Syria for training. The two recruits then convinced the rest to join through social media, it said.
Many, al-Hamadi alleged, went on to “participate in combat operations outside the kingdom” and were planning suicide attacks on religious sites similar to those carried out in neighboring Arab countries.
Gulf Arab states have grown increasingly worried about blowback from Islamic State militancy, especially concerning the return of their own nationals who have fought in wars in Iraq and Syria, parts of which are under Islamic State control.
Local affiliates of the ultra hardline Sunni group have claimed several attacks on Shi’ite communities in the Gulf.
In Saudi Arabia, militants linked to Islamic State attacked a Shi’ite meeting hall on Oct. 16, killing five people, and in May two separate suicide bombings on Shi’ite mosques killed 25 worshippers.
In June, a young Saudi man detonated an explosives-laden vest at a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait City, killing 27 people.
The charges followed a months-long investigation, the statement added, and the accused are to be tried in Bahrain’s High Criminal Court with the first session set for Dec. 22.
Reporting by Katie Paul; Editing by Mark Heinrich