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Bahrain charges 169 for forming another 'Hezbollah'

Shia-majority country has long accused Iran of stoking violence in the Gulf state.


Bahrain has detained and accused 169 people of forming "Bahrain's Hezbollah", a local version of the armed Shia group based in Lebanon. 

The announcement follows scores of arrests and harsh penalties imposed in the Western-allied Gulf state on defendants accused of armed rebellion, while activists say they are peaceful opposition members.

The small but strategic Arab kingdom has been dogged by persistent low-level violence since 2011 when its Sunni minority rulers violently suppressed Shia activist-led protests for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister.

Authorities have repeatedly accused Iran and it allies, including Hezbollah, of fomenting the unrest, a charge denied by Tehran.

Attorney-General Ahmad al-Hamadi said 169 people, 111 of whom are in custody, will be tried for "forming a terrorist organisation... under the name Bahrain Hezbollah", in collaboration with Iranian intelligence services.

Hamadi did not specify when the trial would open or when the defendants were arrested. It was also not clear if they had legal counsel.

He said some of the detainees were accused of travelling abroad to receive training in weapons and explosives from Iran and its regional allies.

Analysts have expressed scepticism about previous Bahraini allegations of Iranian and Hezbollah involvement.

Hezbollah is one of the best trained and equipped armed groups in the world, while most of the Bahrain violence has consisted of stone-throwing and petrol bombs directed at police patrols, or planting crude pipe bombs.

Crackdown on dissent

The authorities have closed most peaceful avenues for protest, banning the main Shia movement Al-Wefaq, which was the largest bloc in parliament, and throwing dozens of its leaders behind bars.

They and their Gulf Arab allies have also blacklisted Hezbollah as a "terrorist organisation" and banned their citizens from any contact with the group or its members.

The crackdown has drawn periodic criticism from Western governments, but the kingdom's strategic position just across the Gulf from Iran makes it a key ally.

The islands are home to the US Fifth Fleet and house a new British naval base completed earlier this year.

The United Nations and rights groups have accused Bahrain's government of crushing dissent and violently cracking down on protests and members of a peaceful political opposition.

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