Bahrain targeted by Iranian-backed 'terror attack'

Media reports indicated the plot was designed to avenge the killing of IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani.

Kingdom of Bahrain flag (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Kingdom of Bahrain flag
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said it was targeted by an Iranian-backed terror plot, according to local media reports. “The Ministry of Interior managed to thwart a huge terrorist plot in the Kingdom of Bahrain that received support and funding from Iran and members of the terrorist Revolutionary Guard Corps,” a statement at Akhbar Al-Khaleej media in Bahrain stated Sunday.
Media reports indicated the plot was designed to avenge the killing of IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani. The US 5th Fleet has a base in Bahrain and Iran has vowed harsh revenge for the US killing of Soleimani in January. The plot comes less than a week after the ceremony in Washington marking the Abraham Accords in which Bahrain vowed to normalize ties with Israel.  
The plot was designed to target public and security facilities in the Kingdom. Bahrain is a relatively small country with a large Shi’ite population. It has faced unrest in the past and Iranian media has increased incitement against Bahrain since the country hosted part of the US “deal of the century” economic plan summit in 2019.
Iranian media has been bashing Bahrain since the White House announced that Bahrain would normalize ties with Israel. Iran has accused the Gulf states of betrayal and media in Iran, such as Fars News and Tasnim News, had highlighted protests in Bahrain and the UAE against the agreements.   
The news, including at Al-Ain media and other sources, on Sunday evening in the Gulf says that the recent plot was uncovered and included an explosive device put on a street in the “Budaiya area” of the country. Terror organization members were going to manufacture explosives, received foreign currency, and had “books related to terror ideology.” A criminal indictment against 18 defendants has been filed. Nine of them are apparently fugitives in Iran. Al-Ain media shows photos of the alleged cars and sites of one of the incidents linked to the attack and plot.  
The report notes that the members of the group were linked to Saraya al-Ashtar and the “Al-Wafa movement.” They had received direct support from the IRGC and around 14 of the terrorists underwent training, apparently in foreign camps. They were monitored. They returned to Bahrain and conducted surveillance on foreign and national security installations. They photographed workers at these sites and also looked at oil depots and economic points that could be struck. They received explosives.
“One of the defendants admitted to receiving military training at Hezbollah camps in Iraq.” He was found with weapons in a region whose name was given as Saar. He received money in drop boxes or via “dead letter” deliveries. This appears to be a complex plot using tradecraft associated with spies and intelligence networks and the plot apparently goes back to 2019 with roots back in 2018 and 2017.
At some point the plotters stole a car to carry out their operations. They targeted a sports event but cancelled the operation due to a malfunction in an explosive device. They also sought to target the international exhibition center but made a mistake with the explosives. This then led to the placing of the bomb on a street in the Budaiya region to strike at a “foreign delegation.” Security forces sought out the perpetrators. It appears that they had monitored US forces in the region of Manama as well. “Another admitted to participating in an attempt to blow up he oil pipeline in the Hamala region.” This other terrorist also targeted a police patrol.
Bahrain has said it seized explosive material and even “projectiles” which seems to indicate other munitions. The revelation of the plot appears to indicate a complex group that attempted to find numerous targets to undermine Bahrain. It is unclear when they were ordered by Iran to carry out their deeds or if they decided on their own. Other Iranian proxies, such as the Houthis in Yemen, have increased attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have also targeted the UAE. Iranian-backed groups such as Kataib Hezbollah have also threatened US forces in Iraq. In recent weeks the Abraham Accords led to concerns that Iran could target Bahrain as it targeted Saudi Arabia last September with drones and cruise missiles. Houthi plots against Bahrain were also alleged, but the Houthis are too far away to strike directly.  
A length article at Al-Ain provides images apparently from Bahrain’s security forces that illustrate the cars and other sites linked to the plot. In April 2019 Bahrain sentenced 139 to prison in a mass terror trial. The country also revoked the citizenship of 115 people on terror charges in 2018. Bahrain has also executed people on terror charges and carried out numerous trials in the last years. The kingdom generally accuses members of the Shi’ite community of working with Iran or engaging in anti-state activities as part of these trials. Human rights groups have expressed concern.  
Bahrain considers Hezbollah in Lebanon a terrorist group and also labels Saraya al-Ashtar, Saraya Al Muqawama and the February 14 Coalition as terrorists. Ashtar is a militant group that uses the IRGC and Hezbollah logo and is linked to Iran. Wafa is a group that also was reported to have turned to “armed struggle” against Bahrain. In 2011 a series of protests in the Kingdom linked to the Arab Spring resulted in intervention by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Since then protest and dissent have been kept closely controlled. While speculation online linked the plot to the recent announcement of ties to Israel, such a sophisticated plot would not likely be put in place in a week. Whether Tehran might have tried to operationalize elements of it, using sleeper cells, in such a short time is less clear.