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Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: Bahrain

(February 27, 2023)

Overview:  There were no successful terrorist attacks in Bahrain in 2021, but domestic security forces conducted numerous operations to preempt and disrupt attack planning.  On February 6, Ministry of Interior security forces thwarted a plot to detonate explosives at two National Bank of Bahrain automated teller machines (ATMs) in the al-Naim and Jidhafs areas in Manama.  In September, four individuals were arrested for setting fire to a Bahrain National Bank ATM; the Ministry of Interior also accused them of being funded by the Iran-based al-Wafa group.

The Government of Bahrain is a member of the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) and supports U.S. government counterterrorism efforts.  Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and participates in U.S.-led military coalitions, including the International Maritime Security Construct and the Counter Maritime Task Force.  Bahrain continued to offer support for countering Iran’s malign activities in the region.  The Government of Bahrain initiated numerous programs intended to improve relations between the community and security forces.

2021 Terrorist Incidents:  There were no terrorist attacks reported in Bahrain in 2021.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:   On September 29, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated a regional Hizballah terrorism-financing network in a coordinated action against the group with Bahraini authorities.  On October 5, Bahrain’s Attorney General Dr. Ali bin Fadl al-Buainain announced that prosecutors had charged three individuals in Bahrain and one individual in Qatar with terror finance and money laundering in connection to the network.

In September, the High Criminal Court found 13 men guilty of being part of a major terrorism cell and of planning several attacks in Bahrain.  The court said the men, whose ages ranged from 21 to 37, were part of Saraya al-Ashtar (Al-Ashtar Brigades) and that seven of them had trained in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps camps in Iran.

In November, the Ministry of Interior arrested 14 individuals for plotting terrorist operations “against security and civil peace,” confiscating weapons and explosives it alleged came from Iran.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  Bahrain is a member of MENAFATF.  Its Financial Intelligence Unit is known as the Financial Intelligence Directorate (FID).  In 2021, the head of Bahrain’s FID was elected the regional representative of the Egmont Group.   Bahrain is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group and the TFTC.  In 2021, Bahrain ranked first in the Arab region and second in the Middle East on the Basel Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Index, with a score of 4.5 points; it was Bahrain’s second consecutive year leading the region on the AML Index.

As part of broader efforts to implement the recommendations set forth in its 2018 Financial Action Task Force Mutual Evaluation Report, over the last two years the Government of Bahrain established a Ministerial Committee to Combat Extremism, Money Laundering, and the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT), chaired by the Minister of Interior.  In addition to Edict 12 outlining the sanctions and designations authorities of the AML/CFT committee, the Government of Bahrain promulgated more than 30 laws to strengthen AML/CFT regulation, including requiring the disclosure of ultimate beneficial corporate ownership and eliminating cash real estate transactions.  Further, the Public Prosecution created a specialized unit dedicated to money laundering crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism:  The Government of Bahrain continued public outreach initiatives such as a community police program that works to bridge the divide between the Bahraini Shia community and police force in neighborhoods and public schools.  The Ministry of Interior continued to implement the Bahrainuna (“Our Bahrain”) initiative to promote a shared, national Bahraini identity.

Specially Designated Global Terrorists Saraya al-Mukhtar and Al-Ashtar Brigades seek to destabilize Bahraini society and pave the way for Iran to exert greater influence in Bahrain.  According to a UN Counterterrorism Center’s 2020 Quarterly Report recommendation, the Government of Bahrain should work to increase awareness, build trust, and enhance civil society capacity to adhere to national regulations in a manner commensurate to the risk posed to the non-profit sector by terrorist groups.

The Ministry of Interior’s drug abuse and CVE prevention program, Ma’an, in partnership with DARE USA is available in 80 percent of Bahraini government schools.  Ma’an worked in partnership with the University of North Carolina and DARE USA to develop a tolerance and CVE student curriculum as part of the National Action Plan to Combat Extremism.

International and Regional Cooperation:  As of December, the Bahrain Defense Force maintained small, deployed elements in Saudi Arabia and Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula.  Bahrain is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League.

Mission Manama facilitated seven Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) courses with the Ministry of Interior:  Investigating Terrorist Incidents; Police Leaders Role in Combating Terrorism; Combating Domestic and Transnational Terrorism; Fraudulent Document Recognition and Behavioral Analysis; Maritime Port and Harbor Security Management; Combating Domestic and Transnational Terrorism; and Explosive Incident Countermeasures.  In October, the Department of Justice’s Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training and Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s ATA program successfully completed the first of five phases in the Counter-Lebanese Hizballah Training Program, which builds terrorism investigations and prosecutions capabilities through information integration and capacity building.

In August, the DOJ OPDAT program trained Bahrain’s Public Prosecution Office and FID on enhanced AML/CFT best practices, including methods to combat terrorism finance.

Source: Country Reports on Terrorism 2021, U.S. Department of State, (February 27, 2023).