DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain said on Tuesday it has arrested a cell suspected of planting mock bombs across the capital Manama, including on the main highways.
The Sunni Muslim-dominated, U.S.-allied Bahrain government has been struggling since early last year to suppress pro-democracy unrest led mainly by the Gulf Arab kingdom’s majority Shi‘ite Muslims.
The Information Affairs Authority said the cell members were suspected of placing “fake bombs in several crowded areas throughout Bahrain”.
“This included placing the objects on vital roads, which caused traffic delays and spread fear among the public,” it said in a statement in English.
It said police found a fake bomb when they searched the home of one of the suspects on Tuesday. It said the suspects were referred to the public prosecutor, but did not say how many and gave no further details.
The arrests come against a backdrop of several bomb attacks in the country following the uprising that is trying to force the ruling family to carry out political reforms.
Five bombs exploded in the heart of Manama on November 5, killing two Asian street cleaners, and prompting activists and the government, which is trying to put down the uprising, to trade blame for the attacks.
Bahrain said the following day it had arrested four suspects and accused the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah of being behind the bombs.
The state news agency BNA quoted Information Minister Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab as saying the bombings were carried out by terrorist groups trained outside Bahrain and based in countries including Lebanon.
Some opposition activists have suggested the attacks, which came a few days after the government banned opposition gatherings with the stated goal of ensuring public safety, could have been the work of forces trying to justify the clampdown.
The government has repeatedly accused Shi‘ite Iran of fomenting the turmoil, a charge the Islamic Republic denies. Hezbollah denies involvement in the Bahrain protests, but has criticized the government’s handling of them.
Bahraini police say they have been the target of numerous attacks with homemade bombs since April, including one that killed a policeman last month.
Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Alison Williams