Overview: Terrorist activity in Bahrain increased in 2017. Bahraini Shia militants remained a threat to security forces and attacks in 2017 resulted in the death of four police officers. During the year, the Bahraini government made gains in detecting and containing terrorist threats from violent Bahraini Shia militants, often backed by Iran, and ISIS sympathizers. The government offered diplomatic support to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS's efforts and supported its military operations through hosting the Fifth Fleet and Naval Central Command. The closure of an independent newspaper and two opposition political societies along with government suppression of peaceful protests have combined to exacerbate political tensions, which could increase the risk of radicalization to violence.

2017 Terrorist Incidents: Suspected Bahraini Shia militants continued to instigate low-level violence against security forces using real and fake improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Bahrain regularly experienced low-level violence between Bahraini Shia youth, using Molotov cocktails and other homemade devices, and predominantly Sunni security forces in mostly-Shia villages. The most prominent attacks in 2017 included:

  • On January 29, unidentified assailants killed an off-duty police officer in Bilad Al-Qadeem.

  • On June 19, a Bahraini Shia militant died in Al Hajar when an IED he allegedly attempted to plant detonated.

  • On October 1, the Shia militant group Wa'ad Allah (God's Promise Brigades), a suspected al-Ashtar Brigades affiliate, detonated an IED targeting a Ministry of Interior (MOI) checkpoint in Daih, injuring five police officers.

  • On October 27, Shia militants detonated an IED along a major highway targeting an MOI police bus killing one officer and injuring eight others.

  • On November 10, an oil pipeline exploded in the village of Buri. MOI officials asserted Bahraini Shia militants trained in Iran conducted the attack.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no changes to counterterrorism legislation or border security procedures in 2017.

In April, Bahrain approved a constitutional amendment granting military courts the right to try civilians accused of threatening state security. On December 25, military courts sentenced six Bahrainis to death and seven to seven years in prison in the first trial since the amendment was ratified.

In January, Bahrain restored the Bahrain National Security Agency's (BNSA) arrest authority for suspected terrorists. BNSA lost its arrest authority after torture allegations amid unrest in 2011. In April 2017, the Bahrain Defense Force established a Counterterrorism Center combining five special operations entities in a new crisis-response mechanism. In December, those forces conducted a mock terrorist attack exercise at a Manama shopping mall.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bahrain is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body, and its financial intelligence unit is a member of the Egmont Group. In December, Bahrain did not issue visas for a Qatari representative to participate in MENAFATF's plenary meeting, held in Manama, likely due to Bahrain's ongoing political dispute with Qatar.

Bahrain is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition's Counter ISIS Finance Group and participates in the Egmont Group's Counter ISIS project. In November, a FATF evaluation team conducted an onsite visit to Bahrain to gather information for its second Mutual Evaluation Report. The team found that Bahrain has progressed in terrorism finance investigations and prosecutions.

Bahrain criminalizes terrorist financing in accordance with international standards and can immediately freeze suspicious financial assets. The government obliges non-profit organizations to file suspicious transaction reports and monitors them to prevent misuse and terrorist financing. The government routinely distributes UN sanctions lists under relevant UN Security Council resolutions to financial institutions.

On October 25, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs imposed sanctions on several individuals and two entities linked to ISIS and al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for their support for or funding of terrorism, blocking their assets and banning transactions in Bahrain. These actions were announced under the newly established U.S.-Saudi Arabia co-chaired Global Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, which acts as an information sharing and coordinating body for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries' terrorism financing efforts.

The potential politicization of terrorism finance and money laundering issues risks conflating legitimate prosecutions of militants with politically motivated actions against the mainstream opposition. In May, the government convicted Shia cleric Isa Qassim on money-laundering charges related to his collection of khums, alms giving unique to the Shia sect, without proper authorization. Activists and opposition-aligned clergy claimed that increased scrutiny of khums is part of a wider crackdown on the political opposition, whereas the Bahraini government has argued that some khums collections directly and indirectly support Bahraini militants.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The Bahraini government continued its efforts to adopt a National CVE strategy in line with the UN Secretary-General's Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action. Additionally, numerous officials from the government, legislature, and non-governmental organizations have developed programming targeting youth and other vulnerable populations.

Within the Bahraini Sunni community, a limited circle of individuals became radicalized to violence in the past several years and joined local terrorist factions or traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS and other terrorist groups. A small number of extremist religious preachers helped radicalize these individuals.

The government attempted outreach through initiatives such as the community police, which recruits Shia Bahrainis to bridge the divide between predominantly Shia villages and the mostly Sunni (and largely non-Bahraini origin) police force. The government has not published statistics on the force's composition or track record.

There is no overall strategic messaging campaign to counter terrorist narratives, although government leaders often publicly speak about tolerance and reducing sectarian rhetoric. However, the government also dissolved secular opposition political group Waad and closed independent opposition-leaning newspaper Al Wasat, limiting the space for opposition voices in the country.

International and Regional Cooperation: Bahrain's air, land, and sea forces participated in Saudi-led coalition operations against AQAP and Houthis in Yemen. As of November 2017, there were approximately 170 members of the Bahrain Defense Forces deployed in Yemen.

Bahrain is an active member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. The Bahraini government frequently attends conferences related to multilateral counterterrorism cooperation. In December, Bahrain co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters.


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