Bahrain says it broke up militant attack plot in early 2020

The plot was foiled earlier this year. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2020

Bahrain says it broke up militant attack plot in early 2020

  • The plot targeting diplomats and foreign nationals was foiled earlier in the year
  • Authorities uncovered the plot after finding an explosive on the street believed to have been planted to target a ‘foreign delegation’

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Bahrain said Monday it broke up a plot by militants backed by Iran earlier this year to launch attacks on diplomats and foreigners in the island nation home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The announcement came hours after Saudi state television and a Bahraini local newspaper implied the plot was new in their reporting Sunday night, just days after the island kingdom normalized relations with Israel. Bahraini government officials, who routinely claim breaking up plots by militants backed by Iran, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press over the confusion.
The details of the plot became public as tensions between Iran and the US remain high after the Trump administration claimed to have re-invoked all United Nations sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program — something disputed by other world powers. The militants reportedly sought revenge for the US drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January, something long threatened by his colleagues in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
Iran’s mission to the UN dismissed Bahrain’s claim of Tehran being involved as just “another instance in a long line of preposterous and false allegations, with no basis in truth.”
“It appears there is no limit to Iran-bashing by the US and its client states in the region, who are trying to divert attention from their recent betrayal to Palestinians and their own people,” mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi told the AP.
The Saudi state TV report aired previously unseen footage of what appeared to be police raiding a home with a hidden passage. The footage showed assault rifles and explosives, apparently seized in the raid.
Nine militants have been arrested, while another nine are believed to be in Iran, the Saudi state TV report said.
Authorities uncovered the plot after finding an explosive on the street believed to have been planted to target a “foreign delegation,” the pro-government Bahraini newspaper Akhbar Al-Khaleej reported, citing the Interior Ministry. The ministry accused the Guard of supporting the militants, who also had surveilled oil sites and military bases, the newspaper said. The militants also planned on assassinating bodyguards of Bahraini officials, the newspaper said.
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 US
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.
Bahrain is home to the 5th Fleet, which patrols the waterways of the Mideast. 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.
Bahrain, an island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, just last week normalized relations with Israel alongside the United Arab Emirates, in part over their joint suspicion of Iran. The UAE has said their move also pushed Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians. Civil society groups in Bahrain have opposed the normalization decision.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the reported arrests in Bahrain.
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 UN 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.
 


Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

Updated 6 min 25 sec ago

Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

  • Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France

ANKARA: The prospect of granting asylum to Idriss Sihamedi, the founder of a Muslim charity that has been shut down in France over his alleged ties to the “radical Islamist movement,” stirred debate about the potential repercussions amid the already escalating French-Turkish spat.

The Turkish interior ministry announced on Oct. 29 that Ankara will assess Sihamedi’s request for himself and his team after receiving his official application.

Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France. His NGO was closed officially on Oct. 28 on the grounds that it “incites hate, has relations with the radical Islamist movement and justifies terrorist acts.”

He posted his asylum request on his official Twitter account in both French and Turkish, tagging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also alleged he had received death threats.

His post received a quick reply from the Turkish interior ministry’s migration management department: “Hello Sihamedi. If you and your colleagues were to personally apply to our institution with your surname, first name, identity information, petition for an asylum request and your passport number, your request will be assessed.”

However, experts think that proceeding with the asylum request of such radicals means playing with fire.

“I think Erdogan is continuing to play a dangerous game by courting relationships with radical figures and in some cases jihadists,” Colin Clarke, senior research fellow on terror-financing networks at the Soufan Center, told Arab News. “Turkey is already viewed as a hot spot for jihadists given its proximity to Iraq and Syria.”

Sihamedi is accused of inciting hatred, encouraging people to violent acts, maintaining relations within the radical Islamist movement, money laundering in the name of Salafi organisations and expressing support for Hitler and the Nazis. He is also blamed for organizing suicide attacks and supporting Daesh.

According to Clarke, if Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi and his team, it may create trouble, both domestically but also with NATO allies.

“Moving forward with actions like this could easily backfire on Turkey and cause considerable blowback. I find these overt flirtations with radical Islamists counterproductive and short-sighted,” he said.

Sihamedi was deported from Turkey last year in May at France’s request and his passport was confiscated at Istanbul airport.

BarakaCity was founded in 2010 in Evry-Courcouronnes (Essonne). The Islamic humanitarian NGO has been closely monitored by French intelligence since 2014. Its buildings were raided several times in 2015 and 2017, and it was investigating for “terrorist financing” and “terrorist criminal association” for three years.

The NGO has said it wants to move its headquarters to another country. At a time when relations between Paris and Ankara are more strained than ever, the Turkish branch of the NGO is headed by a Franco-Turkish national known for his Salafi credentials.

“The French government dissolved BarakaCity also because in the past the NGO received money from Samy Amimour, a member of the Bataclan terrorist commando group in  2015, and from Larossi Abballa, who in 2016 killed a policeman and his wife in Magnanville,” said Matteo Pugliese, associate research fellow at Milan-based think tank ISPI.

“According to the French government, BarakaCity provides a sort of ideological justification for violent radicals, especially when it calls for the punishment of those who publish cartoons or criticize Islam. I think that we are talking about a grey zone, where non-violent extremism meets violent radicalization.”

Sihamedi was released under judicial supervision and is due to face trial in December.

French government also announced plans to dissolve other associations suspected of supporting extremist ideologies.

“If Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi, France will use this to accuse the country of sheltering Islamists who radicalize people with online propaganda,” Pugliese said. “This is part of the verbal escalation between Macron and Erdogan and will be used by both for political internal goals.”