MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain blacklisted three anti-government groups as terrorist organizations on Tuesday, a day after a bomb killed two local policemen and an officer from the United Arab Emirates, state news agency BNA said.
The attack has raised fears of more violence in the Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom, where opposition groups led by majority Shi‘ites have staged protests for the past three years demanding political reform and an end to perceived discrimination.
The cabinet, meeting in emergency session in Manama, put the “so-called February 14 movement, Saraya al-Ashtar (Ashtar Brigade) and Saraya al-Muqawama (Resistance Brigade) and any group associated or allied to them on lists of terrorist groups”, BNA said.
The decision effectively outlaws these groups and makes their members subject to imprisonment. Bahrain listed Lebanon’s Shi‘ite Hezbollah as a terrorist organization last year.
BNA said 25 suspects in Monday’s bombing in the village of Daih, west of the capital Manama, had been rounded up. It did not say if they were members of any of the blacklisted groups.
Speaking on Bahraini state television, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa condemned the attack and blamed Iran for instability in the island kingdom.
“As we have said before, what happens inside our country has foreign links. We have announced publicly that foreign training sessions were organized and hosted at Iranian Revolutionary Guard camps that operated with official backing,” he said.
Iran denies links to Bahrain’s opposition. It does, however, champion their cause.
The three policemen were killed by a remotely detonated bomb during a protest as hundreds of mourners marched in a procession for a 23-year-old Shi‘ite who died in custody last week.
The shadowy Saraya al-Ashtar organization has claimed responsibility for the attack in a message on social media that could not immediately be authenticated.
Saraya al-Muqawama is also little-known, but the February 14 movement has been organizing anti-government protests since the security forces crushed the mass demonstrations of February-March 2011 with help from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
A Bahraini policeman was killed last month during protests to mark the third anniversary of the uprising.
“It’s clear that the government has not succeeded in the last three years in ending the sort of violent activities that at least one part of the opposition continues to engage in, and not for lack of trying,” said Justin Gengler, a Bahrain expert at Qatar University.
The policemen’s deaths further clouded attempts to revive reconciliation talks between the government and the opposition.
Mainstream opposition groups, including the main Shi‘ite al-Wefaq movement, condemned the bombing and called on their followers to ensure that protest activities were peaceful.
But Citizens for Bahrain, widely regarded as a pro-government group, said the condemnation was not enough.
“It is good that the Bahraini opposition has come out and condemned the killing of three policemen. However, it should recognize that the terrorists who perpetrated these acts are the seeds of its own creation,” it said in an email on Tuesday.
The UAE police officer, who had worked alongside Bahrain’s security forces, was buried in the UAE on Tuesday.
Bahrain and the UAE are members of the Western-aligned Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and military alliance that also includes Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.
Bahrain’s Shi‘ites have long complained of discrimination against their majority community in areas such as jobs and public services, charges that the Sunni-led government denies.
The Gulf island is a U.S. ally which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The Sunni al Khalifa family, which has ruled for two centuries, has resisted Shi‘ite-led demands for an elected government, not one chosen by the king.
Bahrain’s human rights record is often criticized at home and abroad. The government says it has taken steps to address abuses by security forces by dismissing those responsible and introducing monitoring cameras at police stations.
Writing by Yara Bayoumy, editing by Sami Aboudi and Alistair Lyon