This is not the first time that the Bahraini Interior Ministry has announced the discovery of a “terrorist cell” aiming to destabilize the country, hurt the economy and assassinate public figures. Throughout the past few decades, security agencies have constantly talked about cells that they characterized as “terrorist,” usually composed of “opposition members” accused of working for foreign entities. Such news, with time, gets relegated to obscurity, very rarely resurfacing into the open.
In their ongoing attempts to divert attention away from important internal Bahraini issues — be they political or parliamentary — the security agencies have, since the beginning of the Bahraini crisis in February 2011, announced the discovery of five “terrorist cells” accused of possessing weapons, perpetrating attacks against police officers and destabilizing security. The most infamous among them might be the “cell of 21,” which included prominent opposition leaders and rights activists who were accused of working to overthrow the regime by force, cooperating with foreign entities and communicating with “terrorist” organizations abroad. Sentences in that case included life imprisonment and were based on the confessions of the accused, who maintained that their confessions were extracted through torture, which was confirmed by medical reports and numerous testimonies.
The announcement concerning the new “terrorist cell” last Saturday, in the wake of massive demonstrations throughout Bahrain to commemorate the second anniversary of the start of protests, became the subject of ridicule among opposition circles who mocked the dramatized detailed plot through the hashtags “#Terrorist_Organization” and “#Abu_Nasser” on social networking sites. Among the tweets published on Twitter was one that read “the Bahraini regime claimed that the cell planned to target sensitive locations and carry out terrorist and funding operations, all for $80,000!” and another that said “the lie about the cell reminded me of that famously funny Kuwaiti soap opera,” and “the question now is whether Iran funded the cell with cash or by check or maybe through installments, or what?” or “newsflash! The Israeli Mossad is asking for the Bahraini Interior Ministry’s help to uncover the fate of the kidnapped soldier Ron Arad.”
Among the many comments pertaining to the evidence announced by the Interior Ministry was the following: “The overwhelming evidence against the Abu Nasser cell, according to claims by the Ministry, revolves around the use of a flash memory card and a hard disk drive by the accused. Wouldn’t that make the whole Bahraini population suspect?”
Ridicule did not stop there. Many people talked about the Abu Nasser nomenclature and the Iranian role. Among the tweets was “Zionists just wait and see, there is no escape from Abu Nasser’s army,” and “following the announcement of the Fajr rocket [a long-range Iranian missile], we now present you with Abu Nasser, the maker of these rockets and trainer of the cell. All that is left for Israeli intelligence now is to find out who discovered Bahrain.”
Bahrain’s Public Security chief, Maj. Gen. Tarik al-Hassan, revealed details about the cell in a press conference held two nights ago. According to Hassan, the cell was uncovered following the formation of a joint team between the Interior Ministry and the National Security Agency, which had received intelligence information about a terrorist cell aiming to target sensitive locations (civilian and military), as well as Bahraini public figures, in order to destabilize security and hurt the economy.
Hassan also said that the cell was a precursor for the establishment of the “Imam’s Army,” an armed military organization whose aim would be to target vital and military installations in Bahrain, including the airport and Interior Ministry, and the formation of armed groups. Authorities arrested eight Bahraini members (five inside the country and three in the Sultanate of Oman), and were still looking for an additional four, with investigations still underway to uncover the identities of others involved, according to Hassan.
Although relatives of some of the detainees from outside the country affirmed that the cases were referred to the Public Prosecutor’s office, they said that the suspects were still being held at the airport prison, and had nothing to do with the activities ascribed to them. The relatives of one of the detainees also confirmed that he had been tortured to confess his involvement. But Hassan said that the accused had confessed that two Bahraini citizens living in the Iranian city of Qom had recruited them under the supervision of an officer from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard named Abu Nasser.
Hassan emphasized that the accused had received weapons and explosives training, especially high explosives, in addition to information gathering and surveillance techniques, as well as imaging and coordinate mapping. This was all carried out in locations belonging to the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, which are run by the Iraqi Hezbollah in Karbala and Baghdad. Moreover, the group had received approximately $80,000 in funding.
He said that the authorities had seized from the defendants paperwork and documents that included information about the organization’s activities, as well as an electronic portable flash drive containing encrypted information that was currently being decoded, photocopies of money transfers and banking transactions, cash, cell phones and computers containing sensitive information.
Tensions reigned over the third dialogue session held yesterday, against the backdrop of the “Al-Fateh Coalition” trying to impose its closing statement condemning the violence on the streets and threatening to withdraw from the session if it were not adopted. But the other participants held their ground and rejected the statement being issued, while the loyalist groups refrained from following through on their threat.
On its Twitter feed, the National Democratic Unionist Assembly stated that the regime, through the closing statement, had tried to blackmail the opposition, threatening to withdraw the Al-Fateh Coalition from the dialogue session. It went on to say, “Today we witnessed how opposition factions were blackmailed to condemn street demonstrations. The aim of the dialogue is to splinter the opposition’s ranks, following the unity that they exhibited in the face of all the security measures.”
The Al-Fateh Coalition groups had leaked a copy of their statement prior to the dialogue session, arguing that violence had spread throughout the country since the thirteenth of the month. In an official statement, the National Dialogue spokesman, Issa Abdul Rahman, announced the Al-Fateh Coalition’s failure to impose its closing statement, and affirmed that the issue was discussed during the session and a consensus reached that issuing such statements was not within the purview of the National Dialogue.
He added that the participants resumed the dialogue from the point reached during the previous session, which stated that the dialogue’s findings would be final. The next session is expected to witness a discussion pertaining to the mechanisms by which the findings would be implemented.