Bahrain | Terrorism threat remains substantial despite arrests

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Bahrain | Terrorism threat remains substantial despite arrests

"Terrorist attacks in Bahrain have occurred in spates lasting two to three months almost annually, the most recent being at the start of this year. The police have connected at least four bombing and shooting attacks in January and February to the arrests in March."

There have been no terrorist attacks in Bahrain since the end of a two-month spate in late February. This is probably due to arrests made in the last few weeks. But based on historical trends, we think this lull is liable to be temporary. The Bahraini interior ministry announced on Sunday the arrest of 14 people accused of planning ‘assassination attempts in Bahrain’ against ‘senior security personnel’. The ministry said that 11 of those detained had received ‘military training’ overseas from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The Bahraini and US authorities have repeatedly – and recently – accused Iran of providing support to Bahraini Shia groups. The US said in March that it had added two Bahraini men to the Specially Designated Global Terrorists list because of their connection to a Bahrain-based Shia militant group, the Al-Ashtar Brigades. It said the group ‘receives funding and support from the government of Iran’. The Bahraini police announced that they had discovered ‘explosives, firearms and ammunition’ smuggled from Iran to Bahrain by boat at the start of March. They have made similar announcements annually since 2011.

We have seen no recent independent reports as to whether Iran is continuing to seek to smuggle weapons in this way, or whether it has had much success in doing so more recently. Most attacks in the kingdom have involved improvised devices such as Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs and homemade firearms. This seems to suggest that the groups responsible do not have access to more advanced Iranian weapons. Iran has repeatedly denied allegations that it is arming militant groups, although it has frequently expressed political support for Bahrain’s Shia majority.

Aside from alleged material support, the Bahraini authorities also believe that these groups receive direction from leaders based in Iran. The US said that one of the men it listed as a terrorist is based in Iran, while the Bahraini interior ministry said that two ‘fugitives believed to be in Iran’ were directing the group detained last Sunday. We have not been able to corroborate any of these assertions. But such guidance could help to explain why terrorists have repeatedly been able to mount attacks in Bahrain even though the authorities have frequently arrested the people they believe are responsible for them.

Terrorist attacks in Bahrain have occurred in spates lasting two to three months almost annually, the most recent being at the start of this year. The police have connected at least four bombing and shooting attacks in January and February to the arrests in March. The last attack occurred at the end of February, which was a bombing that injured five policemen close to Jaww village in the south. Police announced the first set of arrests in connection with these attacks around a week later. And according to our data militants have not mounted any terrorist attacks in Bahrain since.

The extended periods of relative inactivity by terrorist groups that tend to follow arrests suggest that newly-formed networks – possibly directed from abroad – are responsible for a resurgence of attacks, or that the authorities have not been able to detain all the militants. Either way, the ideology and aims of the militant groups seem to retain an appeal to some members of the disaffected Shia community. This means that arrests made by the police will probably provide only temporary respite from terrorist attacks.

By: Risk Advisory’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service

Author: Risk Advisory's Security Intelligence and Analysis Service
Published: 4th April 2017