Bahraini militant group adopts IRGC branding

The new logo and flag of Saraya al Ashtar, which reflects the IRGC branding seen in many other Iranian-backed groups around the Middle East. 

Saraya al Ashtar, an Iranian-supported militant group in Bahrain, has formally changed its logo to adopt the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) branding. This branding is common among many Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East, including Lebanese Hezbollah, the Badr Organization, and Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq. The logo is meant to show the facets of the resistance, or the Islamic revolution, as outlined by Iran’s driving ideology.

The militant group said that the changing of its “identity” was to reflect its “inclusion” and “integral role in the Axis of Resistance in the region.” The ‘Axis of Resistance’ refers to a network of state and non-state actors led by Iran that operates against the United States and its allies in the Middle East and beyond. It also said the change was to reflect its “adherence to the resistance,” which it believes is the only way to overthrow the Gulf kingdom.

At the same time, Saraya al Ashtar reaffirmed its loyalty to the Islamic Republic of Iran. “We believe that the commander and ruler of the Islamic religion is the line of the two imams, Khomeini and Khamenei, which is in the original Muhammad approach in confronting the oppressors and fighting back against the tyrants,” the group’s statement reads.

In the same statement, it also announced its new goals for its resistance in Bahrain, which fits closely to how Hezbollah operates in Lebanon. Saraya al Ashtar promised to help and support the people of Bahrain. The group said it will “support and assist the vulnerable and the oppressed in the face of arrogance by all available legitimate means.” It also promised to “create a deterrent force,” as well as a “resistance and martyrdom culture.” By these new expressed goals, it is clear that Saraya al Ashtar seeks to have a state-within-a-state akin to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Last year, the US State Department designated two members of Saraya al Ashtar as global terrorists. State noted that one of the individuals, Hasan Yusuf, is an Iran-based senior member of the group. Bahraini officials have accused the group of receiving training in improvised explosive devices (IED) from the Hezbollah Brigades, a US Treasury designated Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq.

In Jan. 2016, a cell linked to a militant group was arrested by Bahraini authorities. According to officials, the two-person cell was planning to execute “a series of dangerous bombings” in Bahrain. They traveled to Iran on several occasions for financial and logistic support with the IRGC. In 2012, Bahraini authorities alleged the Ashtar cell members met with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and received $20,000 “in support of their organization.”

Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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