Iranian-backed group in Bahrain celebrates anniversary of deadly bombing

The reported Saraya al Ashtar official responsible for the cell that carried out the bombing, as seen in the recent video.

In a video recently released online, the Iranian-backed Saraya al Ashtar group celebrated the anniversary of one of its largest attacks in Bahrain. The production also aired on Iraq’s Al Ebaa satellite TV channel, which is close to Iran’s ‘axis of resistance.’

The video, portrayed as a documentary, meticulously detailed the March 3, 2014 bombing in the Bahraini village of Daih. The group has dubbed the attack as “Operation Revenge of the Free Men” in the video.

That blast left three policemen dead, including an Emirati policeman attached to the Gulf Cooperation Council’s force on the island.

Spokesmen for the militia stated that the group was able to utilize a nearby protest to bring the police officers within the blast radius, which members then remotely detonated an explosive, killing the three policemen.

A second bomb was reportedly meant to also go off, but technical malfunctions prevented that, according to the group.

Authors Michael Knights and Matthew Levitt have found that the bomb that did detonate was actually a “daisy-chain” of three separate improvised explosive devices. And local officials at the time spoke of other blasts occurring, contradicting the group’s statement.

Two commanders within the militia also spoke at length on how they were in constant communication with the cell on the ground.

A recreation of an alleged text conversation between the cell and the leadership was also provided in a separate, older release.

That cell, reportedly comprised of three individuals, was later arrested and subsequently executed by the state.

The US-designated terrorist organization presented the bombing as a “turning point in the resistance operations” on the island. The militia also claimed that the bombing forced the UAE to “admit its role in the Peninsula Shield Force and in suppressing the protestors.”

The Peninsula Shield Force, the military component of the Gulf Cooperation Council, deployed to Bahrain in March 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring demonstrations in the island kingdom.

That force was instrumental in helping the Bahraini monarchy quell the protests. The UAE’s role in that force was also known from the onset of the military operation.

The group ended its video with a vague warning that “the ‘Revenge of the Free Men’ is the beginning of the story” and the “resistance is etching a path of the future.”

Declining operations in Bahrain

While that attack did represent Saraya al Ashtar’s largest and most sophisticated operation to date, it has so far not been able to replicate that chaos.

At any rate, the Iranian proxy group has repeatedly warned of new attacks in Bahrain over the past year. One of its reported front groups, Katibat al Haydariyah, has even reemerged to make similar threats.

However, Saraya al Ashtar’s last officially claimed operation took place Dec. 2017, according to data kept by FDD’s Long War Journal. And only one attack, perpetrated by Saraya Tha’ir Allah, was claimed in all of 2019.

Bahraini security forces have routinely arrested individuals involved in terrorism and have raided numerous arms warehouses and weapons caches on the island over the years.

These moves have drastically impacted the overall effectiveness of the militias operating in Bahrain, as claimed terrorist attacks on the island have fallen exponentially since 2017 according to FDD’s Long War Journal‘s data.

Though heavy-handed tactics and collective punishment employed by the security forces have often times perpetuated the cycle of violence and have played into Iran’s strategy in fomenting insurgency on the island.

Nevertheless, Saraya al Ashtar, and other Iranian-backed groups, continue to be active both on the ground and in the online propaganda sphere.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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