Inspectors identify Iran-made explosives in Bahrain seizures

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Weapons inspectors have identified Iran as the source of military-grade explosives and electronic components for home-made bombs that have been seized from militants in Bahrain.

Some parts are identical to those recovered from Houthi forces in Yemen and Iraq and include radio-controlled electronics and parts to fit bombs on the underside of cars, according to an investigation by Conflict Armament Research (CAR).

The findings are based on analysis of seized items by national security forces since 2013 when explosive devices used by militants in Bahrain increased in sophistication.

The findings point to an Iranian role in some of the 32 homemade bomb attacks in the last eight years that have killed at least 21 security officials.

The report concludes that militants in Bahrain and the Houthis may have a common source to supply explosive components “some of which probably originate in Iran.”

Manama has long blamed Iran for bomb attacks and for stoking 2011 anti-government protests against Bahrain’s Sunni rulers that were suppressed by the security forces of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

The most well-known of the underground groups, the Al Ashtar Brigades, has claimed responsibility for about 20 bombings including a 2014 attack that killed three police officers, including one from the UAE. In 2017, the government executed three Shiites for the attack, the first executions since 2011, according to a US congressional briefing paper.

First Lieutenant Tariq Al Shehi was killed along with two officers from Bahrain’s security forces after an improvised bomb exploded during an attempt by police to disperse protesters. Courtesy Shehi family
First Lieutenant Tariq Al Shehi was killed along with two officers from Bahrain’s security forces after an improvised bomb exploded during an attempt by police to disperse protesters. Courtesy Shehi family

The US, which has its naval command headquarters stationed in Bahrain, has backed the ruling family’s claims that Iran is supporting violent opposition factions. It has imposed new sanctions on some Bahraini militant groups and downplayed concerns about its human rights record.

The CAR said that identifying marks on some of the weapons seized had been “systematically obliterated” to try to hide where they were made.

“The frequency of mark obliteration is significantly higher for weapons documented in these cases than for any other region in which CAR has collected data since 2011,” according to its report, The IED [improvised explosive device] threat in Bahrain.

It said the only other place where there had been high levels of activity to grind off manufacturers’ marks were from devices recovered from Houthi forces in Yemen.

Dr Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow of the counterterrorism programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the report was further evidence of Iran’s role in Bahrain.

“This fits with Iran’s increasing strategic desire to flex its muscles in the region through this asymmetric warfare,” he said.

“For very little money and fairly little risk, they were able to have a disproportionate effect not only on countries in the region but more broadly in pushing back against US and British efforts to contain its nuclear programme and more malign activities in the region.”

The group said that from 2013, Bahrain security forces began to intercept boats in Bahrain’s territorial waters which had mixed cargoes of bomb-making gear and conventional military weapons.

It said electronic materials found in Bahrain were identical to components found on board a cargo vessel, the Jihan 1, which US naval and Yemeni coastguard forces intercepted off Yemen’s southern coast in 2013.

“The components either originated in Iran or are linked to Iranian-backed supply networks in the region,” according to the CAR report.

The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen concluded in 2013 that crew members travelled to Iran where they were transferred by speedboat to the Jihan 1, which was two kilometres off Iran’s coast. It then headed into Yemeni waters where it was intercepted before reaching the Houthi movement’s stronghold.

A radio-controlled device recovered by Bahraini security forces from a boat in 2013. Conflict Armament Research
A radio-controlled device recovered by Bahraini security forces from a boat in 2013. Conflict Armament Research

A majority of the UN panel found in 2013 that “all available information placed the Islamic Republic of Iran at the centre of the Jihan operation”.

The report said the Jihan 1 case “provides crucial insight into the supply of illicit materiel to militant groups across the Arabian Peninsula”.

The supplies from Iran has meant that Bahraini militant groups have evolved from launching petrol bombs against security forces to radio-controlled bombs in a “relatively short period of time,” the report found.

CAR, whose report was funded by the German government and the European Union, works in more than 30 conflict zones across the world, including Iraq, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria.

The report covers nine seizures, including one in Saudi Arabia, of weapons, components and explosives.

The group in October asked Iran to investigate the source of high explosives recovered during operations against militant group but it has not received a response.

Updated: December 18, 2019 09:52 PM

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