DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain broke up a plot by militants backed by Iran to launch attacks on diplomats and foreigners in the island nation home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, just days after normalizing relations with Israel, Saudi state television and local media on the island reported Sunday.
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry and its state media did not immediately acknowledge the arrests. Bahraini government officials, who routinely claim breaking up plots by militants backed by Iran, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Saudi state TV report aired footage of what appeared to be police raiding a home with a hidden passage. The footage showed assault rifles and explosives, apparently seized in the raid. A Saudi state TV reporter said those planning the attacks wanted to carry them out in revenge for the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani this January in a drone strike in Baghdad.
Nine militants have been arrested, while another nine are believed to be in Iran, the Saudi state TV report said.
Iranian state media acknowledged the reports of the Bahraini arrests, but no official commented on them.
Authorities uncovered the plot after finding an explosive on the street, the pro-government Bahraini newspaper Akhbar Al-Khaleej reported, citing the Interior Ministry. The ministry accused Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard of supporting the militants, who also had surveilled oil sites and military bases, the newspaper said. The militants also planned on assassinating bodyguards of Bahraini officials, the newspaper said.
It wasn’t clear when the arrests took place, as the Akhbar Al-Khaleej report referred to incidents dating as far back as 2017. The newspaper linked the militants to the al-Ashtar Brigade, a Shiite group has claimed responsibility for a number of bombings and attacks in Bahrain, including two that killed police. The group has been sanctioned by the US.
Bahrain is home to the 5th Fleet, which patrols the waterways of the Mideast. Officials have worried in the past that the sailors and Marines attached to the base in Manama could be targeted, as well as others who make up the 7,000 American troops there. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet, declined to comment and referred questions to the Bahraini government.
Bahrain, an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia, just last week normalized relations with Israel alongside the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi state TV report and the local newspaper did not mention that.
Bahrain’s Shiite majority long has accused its Sunni rulers of treating them like second-class citizens. They joined pro-democracy activists in demanding more political freedoms in 2011, as Arab Spring protests swept the wider Middle East. Saudi and Emirati troops ultimately helped violently put down the demonstrations.
Bahrain promised change after the protests. But since April 2016, Bahrain has engaged in a new crackdown on dissent, overturning reforms that blocked civilians from being tried in military courts. It has shut down political parties, arrested political activists and forced others into exile. Militant groups like the al-Ashtar Brigade have launched small, sporadic attacks amid that crackdown.