DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain has arrested eight nationals in a militant cell with links to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, the interior minister of the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state said in remarks published on Sunday.
The official Bahrain News Agency reported the minister, Shaikh Rashed bin Abdullah al Khalifa, as saying the eight had received training in weapons and explosives and also obtained funding from outside Bahrain.
News of the arrests came after two people were killed on Thursday on the second anniversary of an uprising to demand democratic reforms and the unrest, the most violent in recent months, continued into Saturday. The government has accused opposition groups of being linked to Shi‘ite power Iran.
“Recent media reports have revealed the discovery of a Bahraini terrorist cell with links to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon,” the agency quoted Sheikh Rashed as saying in a statement.
“The Ministry of Interior confirms these reports and also confirms the arrest of eight Bahrainis on terror-related charges.”
He did not elaborate on the media reports, adding further details would be released upon completion of investigations.
The minister made no direct link between the arrests and political unrest. But in another part of the statement he criticized an escalation in street violence in the past week which he said had seen the use of a widening array of weapons by anti-government protesters including live ammunition.
The violence has clouded the atmosphere around talks begun on February 10 between the mostly Shi‘ite Muslim opposition and the Sunni Muslim-dominated government to find a way out of the impasse over Shi‘ite demands for more democracy.
The kingdom, base for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been in political turmoil since the protests erupted in 2011, led by majority Shi‘ites demanding an end to the monarchy’s political domination and full powers for parliament.
Thirty-five people died during the unrest and two months of martial law that followed, the government said, although the opposition puts that number at more than 80.
Reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Jason Webb