MANAMA Bahrain expelled a prominent Shi'ite religious figure on Wednesday, accusing him of acting as a representative of influential Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani without permission.
A statement by the interior ministry said it had received information from top Iraqi government officials that Sheikh Hussein al-Najati was Sistani's representative and had carried out activities such as fund-raising in that capacity.
Bahrain, which is ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa dynasty, accuses Shi'ite power Iran of fomenting unrest in the country since a 2011 uprising led by the Shi'ite Muslim community demanding reforms and more share in running the kingdom.
Tehran denies the accusation but defends the cause of Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslim opposition.
This latest move likely adds to tensions in the tiny Gulf state, where there are clashes with police in many Shi'ite areas almost every day.
The interior ministry said in the statement that Najati was among 31 people stripped of their Bahraini nationality in November 2012 for reasons of national security, without explaining how he had remained in Bahrain since then.
"Working as an official agent for any entity requires an official letter that spells out the responsibilities and the activities that will be performed which are then naturally studied by the relevant bodies in the state which have the final say in this matter," the statement said.
"In light of all this, we have decided to expel Najati."
Bahrain's main Shi'ite opposition al-Wefaq Islamic Society posted pictures of Najati arriving in Lebanon on its Instagram account and tweeted that he was forced to leave after being harassed by the government for over a year.
A Wefaq spokesperson told Reuters that Najati shared the same ideology as Sistani but did not elaborate.
"On an ideological level, he is one of those who belong to Sistani's theological views," he said.
Sistani commands unswerving loyalty from many Shi'ites in Iraq and around the world. His spokesman Hamid al-Khafaf told Reuters he had no comment on the issue.
Najati was born in Bahrain to two Iranian parents who obtained Bahraini nationality in 2002, the interior ministry said.
He spent more than two decades in Iran before returning to Bahrain in 2001.
The United States bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and sees it as a bulwark against Iran in the region.
(Reporting by Farishta Saeed; Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Dubai; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)