IS calls for attacks on U.S. bases in Bahrain
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — The Islamic State group is calling on its followers to launch attacks in Bahrain and to target American military personnel stationed on the tiny island ahead of a visit by the U.S. defense secretary.
The appeal came in a video that also urges militants to attack the Sunni-ruled island’s Shiite majority, amid a wide-scale government crackdown on dissent.
IS propaganda has waned as the extremists continue to lose territory in Iraq and Syria under the onslaught of a U.S.-led campaign. Bahrain is part of the anti-IS coalition.
In the IS video, images of Bahraini fighter jets are juxtaposed to footage of an airstrike hitting an IS-held area. It also shows clips of a Bahrain-based Gulf Air flight, the King Fahd Causeway linking the island to Saudi Arabia, and other sites in the capital, Manama.
“Wherever the enemies of Allah are found, there is jihad. Below you are the malevolent (Shiites) and the apostate soldiers of tyranny,” one fighter says, according to a transcript provided by the U.S. jihadi-monitoring SITE Intelligence Group.
“The muzzles of your weapons should not miss those American bases where from military aircraft took off to pour their flames on the monotheists in the territories of Islam,” the militant adds.
Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, as well as a British naval base still under construction.
Cmdr. Bill Urban, a 5th Fleet spokesman, said officials were aware of the video, but declined to discuss possible security measures the Navy might have taken.
Late Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Manama issued a security message noting that “extremist groups have issued broad calls for action by their supporters against the government of Bahrain and (the) U.S. military.”
In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, Bahrain’s government said it “remains vigilant against terrorist activities and extremism.”
“Authorities continue to take all necessary steps to preserve security and stability within the kingdom,” it read.
The video appeared timed for high-level meetings on the island.
A Gulf Cooperation Council conference attended by British Prime Minister Theresa May ended on Wednesday. Weeks earlier, Britain’s Prince Charles and wife Camilla visited the island.
This coming weekend, Bahrain will host the Manama Dialogue, where U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is scheduled to give the opening address. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is also due to attend.
The video listed 14 purported fighters from the island who IS says died as suicide bombers or fighters in Iraq and Syria. One of their names is similar to a man the government identified in January 2015 as having his citizenship stripped for belonging to the militant group. Bahrain prosecuted a group of people last year it accused of forming a local IS cell.
The video, like others from the extremists, seeks to cleave Sunnis from Shiites — something that’s particularly worrying in Bahrain.
It’s been five years since Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring protests, which saw Shiites and others demand more political freedoms from the ruling Al Khalifa family. The government put down the demonstrations with help from Saudi and Emirati troops, and later pledged to carry out reforms.
In the time since, sectarianism has grown on the island and the Sunni-dominated government is in the midst of a crackdown on unrest at a level unseen since 2011.
Authorities have suspended the country’s largest Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, and doubled a prison sentence for its secretary-general. Human rights activists, Shiite leaders and others have been imprisoned, lost their citizenship or been forced into exile.
Bahrain’s government meanwhile has insisted that no one “will, or can be, prosecuted for his or her political views.”
“The government is fully committed to community cohesion and upholding the principles of reconciliation and tolerance, and will not allow the disruption of that cohesion and peace to go unchecked,” the government’s statement said.