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Bahraini raids arrest over 100 members of alleged Iranian-backed network

Explosive material captured by Bahraini security forces in Saturday’s raids

The Bahrain Interior Ministry reported on March 3 that its security forces arrested 116 members of a militant cell operating in the Gulf kingdom. The weekend raids are the latest in a series of major arrests of reportedly Iranian-backed militants in Bahrain over the past few years.

According to the Bahrain Interior Ministry, the cell was linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Additionally, it said that the members belonged to different militias in the island but the IRGC “unified them in a single framework.” Moreover, the ministry accused the IRGC, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Asaib Ahl al Haq in Iraq of training the militants in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. On state TV, suspected militants repeated the same claim and alleged they were trained by the aforementioned three groups, as well as Kata’ib Hezbollah, before returning to Bahrain.

These claims cannot be independently verified by FDD’s Long War Journal, however, this is a longstanding accusation of Bahrain. This also fits with a larger trend of Iranian support of various groups across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and Yemen.

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 that members of Saraya al Ashtar met with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and received $20,000 “in support of their organization.”

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.

Saraya al Ashtar has become increasingly transparent about its ideology and branding, as last month it officially adopted the IRGC branding seen in several different Iranian-backed groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah or Iraq’s Badr Organization. Ashtar’s new reported goals also syncs with how Hezbollah operates within Lebanon.

Also captured in Saturday’s raids were copious amounts of weapons and explosives. According to the Interior Ministry’s statement this includes, “42kg of C4 and TNT, 757kg of urea nitrate [used in improvised explosive devices], magnetic and manual bombs, RPGs, and anti-personnel and anti-vehicle ammunition.” Photos provided by the Interior Ministry appear to confirm large amounts of explosives were captured.

In recent years, Iran has redoubled sponsorship of militant groups in Bahrain. Bahraini security forces have intercepted large quantities of advanced Iranian weapons shipments and explosives, including armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). Since 2015, Manama has detained dozens of Bahraini nationals linked to the IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah.

Caleb Weiss :Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.