DUBAI (Reuters) - A Bahraini court sentenced four Shi‘ite Muslims to life and six others to 15 years in jail on charges of setting up a militant cell linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that aimed at assassinating public figures in the Gulf Arab kingdom.
In February, Bahrain, a Western ally which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, accused Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard of setting up the “terror” cell, which it said planned to attack its airport and government buildings.
Bahrain has accused Shi‘ite power Iran of fuelling unrest in the country since a 2011 uprising led by majority Shi‘ites demanding reforms and more share in running the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa dynasty.
Tehran denies the accusation.
State news agency BNA said in a report late on Sunday that the court acquitted 14 others of the charges. Two of those sentenced to life were tried in absentia, the agency said.
Authorities say the cell is part of the “Imam Army”, a group that includes Bahrainis from inside and outside the country as well foreigners. Its planned targets included the Interior Ministry and Bahrain International Airport.
The group attended training camps run by the Revolutionary Guard inside Iran and others operated by Iraq’s Hezbollah group in Baghdad and the holy city of Kerbala, BNA reported.
Despite quelling the 2011 revolt with help from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf states, protests and clashes have persisted in the country. Talks between government and opposition have failed to end the political crisis.
Bahraini Shi‘ites complain of discrimination in areas such as jobs and public services - something the government denies.
Reporting by Rania El Gamal, editing by Sami Aboudi and Elizabeth Piper