Middle East

Nearly 170 charged with forming 'Bahrain Hezbollah'

Bahrain’s attorney general charged nearly 170 people yesterday with forming a Shiite “terrorist organization” named for Lebanon’s famed militant group Hezbollah.

The small but strategic Gulf Arab kingdom has been dogged by persistent low-level violence since 2011 when its Sunni minority rulers suppressed Shiite-led protests for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister. The authorities have repeatedly accused Shiite Iran and its allies, including Hezbollah, of fomenting the unrest. Iran denies the charge.

Attorney general Ahmad al-Hamadi said 169 people, 111 of whom are in custody, will be tried for “forming a terrorist organization… under the name Bahrain Hezbollah” in collaboration with the Iranian intelligence services. Hamadi did not specify when the trial would open or when the defendants had been arrested. But he said some of them were accused of travelling abroad to receive training in weapons and explosives from Iran and its regional allies.

Hezbollah is one of the best trained and equipped militant groups in the world, while most of the Bahrain violence has consisted of throwing stones and petrol bombs at police patrols or planting crude pipe bombs. The authorities have closed most peaceful avenues for protest, banning the main Shiite movement Al-Wefaq, which was the largest bloc in parliament, and throwing dozens of its leaders behind bars. The crackdown has drawn periodic criticism from Western governments but the kingdom’s strategic position just across the Gulf from Iran makes it a key ally. The islands are home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and house a new British naval base completed earlier this year.

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