Nearly 170 charged in Bahrain with forming local Hezbollah branch
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Nearly 170 charged in Bahrain with forming local Hezbollah branch

Authorities say suspects collaborated with Iranian intelligence to establish organization named for Lebanese terror group, following years of unrest

Illustrative: A Hezbollah flag is waved during an Al-Quds rally in London (Steve Winston/via Jewish News)
Illustrative: A Hezbollah flag is waved during an Al-Quds rally in London (Steve Winston/via Jewish News)

Bahrain’s attorney general charged nearly 170 people on Tuesday with forming a Shiite terrorist organization named for Lebanon’s famed jihadist group and longtime Israel foe Hezbollah.

The small but strategic Gulf Arab kingdom has been dogged by persistent low-level violence since 2011, when its Sunni minority rulers bloodily suppressed Shiite-led protests for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister.

The authorities have repeatedly accused Shiite Iran and it 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 traveling abroad to receive training in weapons and explosives from Iran and its regional allies.

A Bahraini protestor takes cover from tear gas during clashes with riot police following a protest against the arrest of the head of the banned Shiite opposition movement Al-Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman (on the poster) on January 1, 2015 in Bilad al-Qadeem, a suburb of Manama. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH)

Analysts have expressed skepticism about previous Bahraini allegations of Iranian and Hezbollah involvement.

Hezbollah is one of the best trained and equipped terror groups in the world, while most of the Bahrain violence has consisted of throwing stones and firebombs 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.

They and their Gulf Arab allies have also blacklisted Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and banned their citizens from any contact with the group or its members.

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 US Fifth Fleet and house a new British naval base completed earlier this year.

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