Two foreigners were killed and a third injured when a series of explosions rocked Bahrain, government officials said Monday, a new eruption of violence that authorities labeled as terrorist acts bent on destabilizing the divided country.
The three men, all Asians, were victims of homemade bombs, one man dying after kicking a device and another killed near a movie theater, Bahraini police told state media.
The third man, a cleaner, was reported to be in serious condition. Like many Gulf countries, Bahrain brings in a large number of foreign laborers from Asia, including many workers from Pakistan and elsewhere in South Asia.
“The culprits who committed these heinous crimes will be dealt with severely and pursued and legal actions will be taken against them in compliance with provision of the anti-terror law,” the Bahrain News Agency said in a statement attributed to Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Khalifa.
The main opposition party, Wefaq, condemned the reported attacks but questioned what had happened. “Due to absence of independent human rights and media parties, it is difficult to clearly detect the truth behind incidents that are said to have occurred,” it said in a statement.
The reported explosions in the heart of Manama mark a new kind of violence in the island nation. Until now, clashes have largely been confined to the villages outside the capital.
Bahrain has been enmeshed in turmoil for more than a year and a half, as dissidents push for greater democracy and a stronger voice for Shiite Muslims in the Sunni monarchy. Though the Bahraini government has agreed to some reforms after an independent commission called for change, human rights groups and opposition activists say abuses and suppression of dissent have persisted.
Government officials have countered that the protest movement has run afoul of the law as some opposition protesters have turned to violence, lobbing Molotov cocktails and stones at police. Two officers recently died in the line of duty, state media report. Though dissident groups say attackers are in the minority, the government recently banned all protests and rallies, saying the sweeping move would restore security.
The explosions Monday are “definitely a side effect of cracking down on peaceful protest,” said Claire Beaugrand, Gulf senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. “The radicals will probably say that Wefaq has lost its credibility … The grassroots have become more and more disillusioned, more desperate, and more willing to tacitly or silently support alternative action.”
The United States warned last week that banning protests was “contrary to Bahrain’s professed commitment to reform,” but also urged the opposition to refrain from violence.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Bahraini policemen search for evidence at the scene of an explosion that authorities say killed an Asian man in Manama on Monday. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press