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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Bahrain smashes ‘Iran-linked’ terror cell

Meanwhile, Qatar becomes the latest Gulf Arab state to recall its ambassador to the Islamic republic following attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in the country.
Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari, left, and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Tehran on January 6, 2015. AFP
Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari, left, and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Tehran on January 6, 2015. AFP

ABU DHABI // Bahrain says it has dismantled an Iran-linked terror cell that was planning attacks in the kingdom.

The cell, allegedly linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Lebanon’s Tehran-backed Hizbollah militia, was planning to carry out a “series of dangerous bombings” on Bahrain, the interior ministry said on Wednesday.

Members of the “secret terrorist organisation” have been identified and many arrested, the ministry said, adding that others remained at large.

Among those arrested were 33-year-old twins Ali and Mohammed Fakhrawi, identified as leaders of the group, the official BNA news agency reported, citing the ministry.

Bahrain had on Monday joined Saudi Arabia in cutting diplomatic ties with Iran over attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions by Iranian protesters.

On Wednesday, Qatar recalled its ambassador to Iran, joining other Saudi allies in curtailing diplomatic ties with Tehran over the incident.

“The ministry summoned this morning Qatar’s ambassador to Tehran against the backdrop of attacks on the embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Tehran,” the director of Qatar’s Asian Affairs Department said.

Oman expressed regret over the attacks on Wednesay, but stopped short of recalling its ambassador or cutting ties as fellow GCC states have done. The UAE has downgraded its ties with Iran and Kuwait has recalled its envoy to Tehran.

The sultanate is known for its historically strong ties with Iran and for maintaining a neutral stance in regional disputes.

It was Muscat’s the first response to the ongoing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which began with the kingdom’s execution of the Shiite cleric Nimr Al Nimr on Saturday. Iranian protesters, angered by the execution, later attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and a consulate in Mashhad.

“The Sultanate considers this action unacceptable and at the same time affirms the importance of finding new rules that prohibit any kind of intervention in countries’ internal affairs,” Oman’s foreign ministry said.

Media reports in Tehran said Oman’s foreign minister was expected in the Iranian capital on Wednesday.

Djibouti also cut ties with Iran on Wednesday while Jordan summoned the country’s ambassador in Amman to condemn the attacks and “Iranian interference” in Arab affairs, the Jordanian state news agency Petra reported.

“You have various GCC members plus Turkey and Sudan reacting in different ways to the violence that occurred in Iran against Saudi interests,” said Dr Theodore Karasik, a UAE-based security analyst with Gulf State Analytics.

“Everybody has condemned the actions because it is against international diplomatic and legal norms but, at the same time, each of these countries has two particular interests, the relationship with Saudi at this time and what their own perspectives are on where they fit within this dispute.”

Meanwhile, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to condemn Saudi Arabia for its execution Al Nimr and 46 other people convicted on terrorism charges.

“The executions in Saudi Arabia are an internal legal matter,” he said in his first public reaction to the incident. “Whether you approve or not of the decision is a separate issue.”

Mr Erdogan had last month visited Riyadh for talks with King Salman and the political elite, in a new sign of Ankara’s warm ties with the kingdom.

He dismissed suggestions that the executions were aimed at provoking tensions with Shiite Muslims and also said the attack on the Saudi mission was “unacceptable”.

“Clearly, Turkey and Saudi [Arabia] have a new relationship based on the outcome of the Riyadh conference but also because of [defence minister] Mohammed bin Salman’s announcement of the Islamic military alliance which fits in very well with Ankara’s outlook towards settling the Syrian political situation in their favour,” Dr Karasik said.

“It is a mix of personal relationships augmented by affiliation to the kingdom but also the fact that [King Salman] is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.”

Staff of the Iranian embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah left Saudi Arabia on board a private Iranian plane, Saudi state news agency SPA reported on Wednesday.

Iran’s official state broadcaster IRIB said the 54 diplomats arrived in Tehran after Saudi diplomats in Iran returned to the kingdom on Tuesday.

The Iranian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Hossein Sadeghi, was quoted on state television as saying that anger at Al Nimr’s execution was natural but the response was not.

“Although protest is a civil right, an assault on an embassy and infringing commitments can damage the image of the Islamic republic,” he said.

“This move was unacceptable and wrong and we should learn a lesson so that, while preserving the right to protest, such an act should not happen.”

Iraq on Wedneday offered to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran to end their dispute, saying it could spill over into the rest of the region.

Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari said the row could have “wide-ranging repercussions”.

Analysts said Baghdad was particularly worried about anything that could disrupt its campaign against ISIL.

“We have solid relations with the Islamic Republic ... and also we have relations with our Arab brothers and therefore we cannot stay silent in this crisis,” Mr Al Jaafari said.

cmalek@thenational.ae

* With agencies