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Is Bahrain Prepared for an ISIS Terror Attack?

A protestor carrying a I love Bahrain placard during a rally in Bahrain in 2013. Photograph by Moh'd Saeed. Copyright: Demotix

A protestor carrying a I love Bahrain placard during a rally in Bahrain in 2013. Photograph by Moh'd Saeed. Copyright: Demotix

UPDATE: Since this story was published, Bahrain has announced it is taking steps to allocate “security resources to protect places of worship [which ] is the duty of the Interior Ministry, which is charged with protecting citizens and residents.” For more on this, check out our coverage on Global Voices Checkdesk here.

Following ISIS attacks against Shiites in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that have left scores dead and hundreds injured, it’s not a surprise that Bahrain is on the terror group's radar. Predictions that mosques in Bahrain could be next on the ISIS hit list are being circulated on social media.

The Al-Qaeda affiliate which now controls large territories in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for two separate attacks on Shiite mosques in Eastern Saudi Arabia last month, and the latest attack on Imam Sadiq mosque, the largest Shiite mosque in Kuwait City, on Friday.

On Twitter, ISIS member Waddah Alazdi issues a direct threat saying Bahrain should brace itself for an attack next Friday:

If God is willing, next Friday (referring to a terrorist attack) will be in Bahrain. They say it's a nice mix.

Researcher at the University of Cambridge and author of Sectarian Gulf Toby Matthiesen expressed concern:

In a post circulated on Facebook and Twitter by Muharraq News, ISIS Bahraini leader Turki Al-Binali, whose citizenship was one of the 72 citizenships recently revoked by the Bahraini government, has announced the next attack will take place in Bahrain next Friday, on July 3, 2015:

Urgent: Turki Mubarak Al-Binali announces that next operation after the bombing of a mosque in Kuwait will be in Bahrain on Friday on 07/03/2015

It is not clear if the announcement is official, but it has been also published on smaller Arabic news sites.

This is not the first empty threat by ISIS to carry out a terrorist attack in Bahrain, which is why some people are skeptical. That doesn’t mean that Bahrain should not put on its proactive hat and take necessary safety measures to ensure that mosques and people are protected from any potential attack.

On May 22, a suicide bomber killed 23 people and left 102 people injured when he blew himself up in the Imam Ali Mosque in Qatif, in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. The following Friday, on May 31, three people were killed in a suicide bombing, which the ISIS Saudi branch Walayat Najd claimed responsibility for, and some 10 people were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Shia mosque in nearby Dammam.

And in November, last year, eight people were killed in Al Ahsa, also in the Eastern province, when gunmen attacked a Shia community centre, where a religious ceremony was taking place.

Many feel that the two suicide bombings targeting Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia, which followed the Al Ahsa attack, and the attack in Kuwait, could have been thwarted had the authorities taken measures to stop them.

Bahrain is politically a perfect hub for a terrorist attack. The country is already divided by sectarian tensions following the popular uprising in 2011, when people called for more political reforms. The government pitted the conflict as a Shia population trying to wrestle power from a Sunni leadership, a storyline often echoed in international media. Bahrain is also different from both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait because Shias are closer to being a majority in the small Gulf island and are easier to target as the government has been engaged in daily street battles with Shiite protesters on an almost daily basis since protests started four years ago.

However, it remains the responsibility of the government first and the people second to provide security for all citizens equally, and not based on sect or political loyalty. Failing to secure the lives of all Bahrainis, regardless of their sect, is a sectarian statement in itself.

The question is, how can a country like Bahrain where systematic approaches based on sect are deeply infested, fight a bigger battle against ISIS. How are people expected to stand united, when state media fuels hatred and sectarian tensions in the country? Are we even allowed to blame ISIS for their irrational extremism when Bahraini religious figures, media outlets, and laws do the same?

Bahraini journalist Khalil Bohazza started a dialogue with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid Alkhalifa on this issue:

What is the message that is sent to ISIS when the sanctity of a particular sect is violated by state institutions, other than allowing them to target the sect.

My brother Khalil you know me very well, did you expect that I don't condemn ISIS’ terrorism. In fact they were arrested, interrogated and their citizenships were revoked.

Bohazza elaborates on sectarian practices in Bahrain that make the country an easy target for such terrorist attacks:

When people from a certain sect are cursed on state television, and state-backed newspapers are employed to insult their sect, that is an approval by the state for ISIS and others to target them.

Editor-in-Chief of Arabic daily Al-Wasat Newspaper Mansour Aljamri emphasizes Bohazza's message in a separate tweet:

Terrorism will be defeated when the amplifiers of hatred are shut. The terrorists who blew Al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait derived their strength from the fatwas [which describe Shiites as infidels] and public incitement.

Fighting sectarianism in Bahrain should be a policy, and not a lenient preference. In a country where human rights activists and journalists get arrested for criticizing the government or “insulting public institutions”, isn't it more dangerous when prominent voices call for violent actions against other groups of people in the country? Why aren't sectarianists being punished for digging Bahrain's grave deeper into the ground?

Writer and poet Ali Al Saeed shares my concerns, and those of many others, demanding action:

But he remains doubtful:

The Ministry of Interior seems to have heard my thoughts and tweeted two days ago:

One is allowed to be skeptical of the seriousness of such measures, and wonder whether all those accused of using social media to deepen the sectarian problem in Bahrain will be punished equally, or based on their sect.

Human rights activist Said Yousif is one of those very skeptical:

What is the value of the regime's statement about fighting terrorism when the system prints on its own expense blasphemy books presenting a discourse that creates new ISIS recruits

The tweet is a picture of a book's cover page entitled “The light of the Sunna and the Darkness of Heresy” and is sponsored by General Command of the Bahrain Defense Force. In Bahrain, no one has yet been punished of accusing the adherents of the Shiite faith of heresy and calling them “Rawafedh,” a derogatory term used to describe the Shia, in state-sponsored media and from the pulpits of mosques.

This is the perfect opportunity for Bahrain's government to prove they are concerned for all Bahraini citizens and that security isn't important only when trying to crackdown on protesters in the streets.

Al Saeed still wonders whether the government is doing anything to prevent potential attacks:

If ISIS is the enemy of all Muslims, Bahrainis should unite and take steps towards facing this common enemy. Since the Shiite mosques are targeted, why can't we open the Sunni mosques for everyone and pray together. Bahrain's Foreign Minister had the same idea:

The historical error is that there is a mosque for Sunnis and a mosque for Shiites, A mosque is one and for all Muslims, the differences were politicized

Bohazza calls it as it is:

We can't fight extremism with slogans, rather the establishment of states based on the rule of law and full citizenship

Bahrain's government understands the sectarian divide, given it had played a role in strengthening it. Why can't we have a policy to unite mosques and force extremists out?

I received this picture from a private Instagram account that has been shared via social media:

The text quotes Bahrain News saying, it is hard for ISIS to carry out a terrorist attack in Bahrain. The post says that security checkpoints have been heavily installed around the country, and armed control cells have been planted around all mosques to monitor the situation. Bahrain News also announced that a terrorist cell linked to ISIS has been arrested at customs, and after interrogation it was clear they were preparing to study “targeted sites.” This confirms that Bahrain is next after Kuwait, in the ISIS plan.

Although the responsibility of safeguarding citizens falls squarely on the government, it is also in the hands of the smaller communities in Bahrain to show unity and solidarity by taking their own safety measures to keep an open eye on their mosques and visitors. On a larger scale, it is their responsibility to stop using sectarian messages, and inciting hatred between sects just because they have different political ideologies.

ISIS is not Iran, it's not Saudi Arabia, it's not a country. Our political preferences are not to be the judging factor whether some people deserve to be killed by ISIS or not.

Kuwait has shown an incredible solidarity between the Sunnis and Shiites following the blast. Kuwaitis from both sects prayed side by side to mourn the death of their fellow citizens.

Saudi comedian Fahad Albutairi tweeted this video:

After the terrorist attack in Kuwait, Kuwaitis stand Sunnis and Shiites united in Imam al-Sadiq mosque, where the crime happened.

Will Bahrain be united and stand together in the face of a real foreign terrorist threat, or will we practice a blatant hypocrisy where we condemn a violent act elsewhere, but justify it on our own turf?

We don’t know whether Al-Binali’s announcement is an empty threat, but what if it wasn’t? Is Bahrain prepared?


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