Militias Operating in and against the Kingdom of Bahrain
Part II

By Lucie Švejdová

Militias Operating in and against the Kingdom of Bahrain

Part II


Introduction

In June 2017 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain collectively designated the following Iran-backed, Shia paramilitary units operating in Bahrain as terrorist organisations:

 

            1          Hezbollah Bahrain,

            2          Saraya al-Ashtar

            3          Saraya al-Mukhtar

            4          February 14 Coalition

            5          The Resistance Brigades       

            6          Harakat Ahrar Bahrain.

 

Building on the first monitoring segment (available here) which identified and presented Hezbollah Bahrain and the Saraya al-Ashtar, this segment focuses on the Saraya al-Mukhtar and February 14 Coalition as a way to better understand the dynamic and multidimensional terrorist challenge that Bahrain faces from Iran and its proxies.

 

Saraya al-Mukhtar (the Mukhtar Brigade)

The Saraya al-Mukhtar, is among the most pronounced of the Iran-backed paramilitary organisations operating in Bahrain and has grown in both efficiency and potency since its first public declaration of war against Bahrain’s government, its police forces, civil society members that work with the government and Saudi Arabian military forces on 26 September 2013 (via a Facebook statement).[1]
 

Saraya al-Mukhtar’s strategic goal is to depose Bahrain’s government which it announced in November 2013 with a threat to ‘crush the fascistic regime.’[2] This strategic orientation is meant to pave the way for Iranian intervention and direct rule of Bahrain. In other words, Saraya al-Mukhtar intends for Bahrain to be a province of the Islamic Republic and its tactics are meant to punish Bahraini citizens, threaten the national government and ‘open the door’ for Iran’s revolutionary guards to enter Bahrain.
 

The group’s rhetoric is — decidedly — more pronounced than its capabilities and it’s modus operandi tends towards deploying very crude improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and arson attacks. It seems to leave most of the actual violence to its sister-organisations (re: Hezbollah).

Saraya al-Mukhtar does excel at one area and has advanced cyber-terrorism capabilities that is used to both radicalise young men to their cause and generate high definition terrorist propaganda materials for themselves and their affiliates. It is tech and social media savvy and maintains Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram accounts which air footage of attacks and as platforms for individual terrorists to claim and/or praise terrorist attacks. For instance, al-Mukhtar praised the Al-Ashar bombing of Bahraini police on 3 March 2014, [3] and in October 2017, the group praised a terrorist attack on the Khalifa bin Salman highway near Manama (which killing one police officer and wounded eight) which was carried out by sister-radical group Saraya Waad Allah. The statement read that:

 

‘The Islamic Resistance in Bahrain – Saraya al-Mukhtar – congratulates our comrades in Saraya Waad Allah in their proper and blessed operation which tasted the enemies of God…who have long been tormented by our resistant people and the oppressed.’[4]

 

Steeped in radicalised rhetoric, Saraya al-Mukhtar is the mouthpiece of nearly all Iran-backed militias in Bahrain and perceives itself as ‘soldiers’ contributing to the larger regional conflict between Shia-Sunni sectarianism fuelled by Iran’s revisionist ambitions. In February 2014, the group posted on Facebook that:
‘The cause of the people in the Eastern Region [of Saudi Arabia] and our defense is                  one…Resistance against Saudi occupation, our taklif, and our fate are united.’[5]


Such anti-Saudi rhetoric, which is a part of Tehran’s revolutionary narrative, is commonly  adopted by most of Iran’s regional proxies.

Additionally, Saraya al-Mukhtar is increasing its capabilities in advanced hacking efforts aimed at producing propaganda, generating and distributing fake-news, sowing confusion in Bahrain and the wider region and, crucially, attacking critical infrastructure and official government platforms. Saraya al-Mukhtar hacked Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Ahmad Al Khalifa’s, Twitter account in June 2017.[6]

 

It is also worth noting that, in February 2018, Saraya al-Mukhtar claimed that fighters who were buried in Qom — Iranian state media publicised funeral ceremonies for ‘three martyrs of the Bahraini people’s resistance’ — belonged to its network. According to Amir Toumaj and Caleb Weiss, this appears to be the first instance that Iran has publicly buried Bahraini militants on its soil.[7]

 

February 14 Youth Coalition (Y14F)

Since its 2011 emergence, February 14 Youth Coalition is possibly the most publicly known radical anti-government