Manhunt in Bahrain after jailbreak
London - Bahraini authorities have intensified the search for gunmen who stormed Jaw prison near Manama, killing a policeman and freeing ten people held on terrorism charges.
A force of up to six gunmen attacked the prison, one of Bahrain’s biggest, at 5.30am January 1st. One policeman was killed and a second officer suffered “moderate” injuries during the assault, authorities said.
The inmates who escaped had all been convicted of terrorism-related charges, mostly tied to violent anti-government protests and attacks on Bahraini security services, authorities said.
Jaw prison houses more than 2,400 inmates, including 1,000 convicted of terror-related offences. Last June, 17 inmates broke out of Al-Hadd jail, east of Manama, but most were captured the next day.
Authorities in Manama suspended three officials, including the Jaw prison director, and referred the case to the prosecutor’s office.
“The decision follows the recommendations of an investigation committee that was set up by the Interior Minister to investigate the circumstances of the terrorist attack on the Reformation and Rehabilitation Centre in Jaw on January 1st,” a statement carried by Bahrain News Agency said.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials labelled the attack on the prison an act of terrorism. In a statement a day after the prison break, GCC Secretary-General Abdul Latif al-Zayani condemned “the heinous act of terrorism” while affirming the GCC’s continuing support for Bahrain’s security. Kuwait’s cabinet and Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s Foreign ministries issued similar statements of support.
The Arab League condemned the attack on the prison and expressed its support and solidarity in what it described as Bahrain’s “war on terror and refusal of foreign interference in the Bahraini internal affairs”, a reference to Iran.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit stressed that such interference undermines confidence in building constructive relations with Tehran.
“Iran is adamant on interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries and fuelling unrest by exporting a heinous and sectarian-tainted mantra. Such a subversive policy undermines the confidence of Arab countries in the possibility of building normal and constructive relations with Iran on the basis of good neighbourhood and mutual respect,” Gheit said.
“No stability in the Middle East can be guaranteed without a total change in behaviour by Iran.”
Iran’s Ahl Al Bait channel described the individuals behind the prison break as “heroes”. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry accused the channel of supporting terrorism.
“The channel gloated over the death of the fallen serviceman while performing his duty, describing the runaway terrorist elements as ‘champions seeking freedom’,” a statement from the ministry said.
“This represents an additional evidence of Iranian direct support for the terror acts and reflects at the same time an Iranian persistence to interfere in the internal affairs of Bahrain.”
The GCC views Iran and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, as a cause of regional instability, pointing to situations in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain. Tensions were heightened last January when Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with Iran following the storming of its Tehran embassy by protesters angered at Saudi Arabia’s execution of a radical Shia cleric convicted of involvement in the killing of police.
This resulted in Saudi Arabia cancelling a $3 billion aid package to the Lebanese Army over the Lebanese government’s failure to condemn the attacks on the kingdom’s diplomatic missions in Iran. This was followed by travel bans by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait.