Bahrain breaks up Iranian-backed terrorist cell

Sunday 02/04/2017
Police and security officials stand guard at a checkpoint on a highway in Sanabis, west of Manama. (Reuters)

London - Bahrain announced that it had dismantled a terror cell allegedly linked to Iran.

Bahrain’s Interior Min­istry said the country’s security forces broke up an Iranian-linked “terrorist cell” of 14 individuals connected to a February bombing of a police bus and a plot to assas­sinate high-ranking officials.

The Interior Ministry said the cell, which allegedly had ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah, was planning attacks on the base in Juffair, home to US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Authorities in Manama said the arrested individuals received or­ders and funds from Iran-based Bahrainis Qassim Abdullah Ali and Majid al-Sanadi. Sanadi was recent­ly declared a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US State Department.

The State Department said Sana­di is a member of the Bahrain-based al-Ashtar Brigades, which receives funding and support from the Irani­an government and has been linked to terrorist attacks in Bahrain. One of the attacks resulted in the death of two police officers and an officer from the United Arab Emirates.

Bahraini authorities stressed that the 14-man cell was composed of professionally trained terrorists who received extensive military training in Iran and Iraq and were proficient in making explosives and the use of high-calibre weapons.

The cell allegedly smuggled arms and explosive materials from abroad, storing them in depots across Bahrain. Bahraini officials said the cell monitored the move­ment of officials and public figures as part of an assassination plot.

Bahrain and its fellow Gulf Co­operation Council (GCC) members have long complained about Iran’s destabilising activities in the re­gion. The GCC views Iran and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, as the root cause of the instability, point­ing to situations in Syria, Iraq, Leb­anon, Yemen and Bahrain.

Tensions increased last January when Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with Iran after protesters, an­gered by Saudi Arabia executing a radical Shia cleric convicted of terrorism-related charges, stormed the country’s embassy in Tehran and set it on fire.

Tensions had escalated in 2015 when Bahraini Foreign Minis­ter Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa equated Iran’s destabilis­ing regional activities to the havoc caused by the Islamic State.

“These actions are no less a threat to us than Daesh,” Khalifa said then, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

When asked about the possibil­ity of improving relations with Iran, Khalifa said: “Certainly not when Iranian officials publicly boast about having captured four Arab capitals through their Iranian Is­lamic revolution.”

With tensions flaring, Kuwait’s and Oman’s efforts to smooth the relationship between Iran and fel­low Gulf states seem to have fallen flat. Iranian President Hassan Ro­hani recently visited both Kuwait and Oman, but was greeted with a muted response by the rest of the GCC.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash dismissed Iran’s call for dialogue, which many GCC observers say was made only to appease the Trump administra­tion, on his official twitter account.

“[Iranian Foreign Minister Mo­hammad Javad] Zarif calls for a re­gional dialogue in the Arabian Gulf. For the dialogue to be serious and away from propaganda, Tehran must stop interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbours,” Gargash posted.