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Bahrain busts ‘Terror’ cell linked to Tehran – Qatar recalls envoy – Jordan summons ambassador – Djibouti cuts Iran ties

DUBAI: Bahrain said yesterday it had dismantled an Iranlinked “terror” cell that was planning attacks in the kingdom, amid a growing diplomatic crisis between Gulf Arab states and Tehran. The cell was allegedly linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Lebanon’s Tehran-backed Hezbollah militia and planning to carry out a “series of dangerous bombings” on the tiny Sunni-ruled kingdom, an interior ministry statement said. Members of the “secret terrorist organization” have been identified and many arrested, said the statement on the official BNA news agency, adding that others remain at large. Among those arrested were 33-year-old twins Ali and Mohammed Fakhrawi identified as leaders of the group. The cell is allegedly linked to the little-known Al-Ashtar Brigades which has reportedly claimed responsibility for bombings in the Shiite-majority kingdom, including one outside a Sunni mosque in 2013. It is also linked to suspects involved a July 28 bombing that killed two policemen and wounded six others. Al-Ashtar Brigade, as well as Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, are on Bahrain’s list of “terrorist groups”.

The twins have travelled to Iran on several occasions to obtain financial and logistical support, relying on their relations with “terrorist elements” that have strong ties with the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, the statement said. Ali Fakhro and two other suspects also met in 2012 with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy who offered them “$20,000 in support of their organization,” Bahrain said. The tiny but strategic US ally has seen frequent unrest since a Shiite-led uprising erupted in 2011 demanding a constitutional monarchy.

Bahrain frequently accuses Tehran of backing the unrest. Saudi Arabia accused Iran Saturday of sponsoring “terrorism” recalling Iran-linked cells that have been uncovered smuggling explosives and arms to Bahrain and Kuwait. Iran warned Saudi Arabia yesterday to stop working against it as their diplomatic crisis intensified despite efforts to defuse a row that has raised fears of greater regional instability.

Tensions widened between Saudi Arabia and Iran after protesters torched the kingdom’s diplomatic missions in the Islamic republic following the Saturday execution of Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr. Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in response and was joined by some of its Sunni Arab allies including Bahrain and Sudan. The United Arab Emirates also downgraded relations with Iran and Kuwait recalled its ambassador. Djibouti, the tiny Horn of Africa nation and ally of Saudi Arabia, said yesterday that it too had broken diplomatic ties with Tehran. “Djibouti cut its diplomatic ties with Iran out of solidarity with Saudi Arabia,” Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf told Reuters in a text message.

Jordan summoned Iran’s ambassador to protest the attacks on Saudi missions. Amman expressed its “strong condemnation” of Saturday’s attacks by protesters on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Iran’s second city Mashhad, a foreign ministry spokesman told official news agency Petra. “The attacks on the Saudi embassy and consulate constitute a flagrant violation of international conventions,” the spokesman said.

Late yesterday, Qatar recalled its ambassador to Iran. “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,” QNA quoted Khalid Ibrahim Abdulrahman Al-Hamar, the director of the Asian Affairs Department, as saying. Qatar’s foreign ministry called the embassy attack a “violation of international charters and norms that ensure the security and protection of diplomatic missions and their members”. Staff at Iran’s embassy in Riyadh and its consulate in Jeddah flew home yesterday, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB said a plane carrying 54 Iranian diplomats and their families had landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport. As its diplomats arrived home, Shiitedominated Iran fired the latest verbal salvo in a dispute that has seen Riyadh and some Sunni Arab allies cut diplomatic ties with Tehran. At a press conference in the capital, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Riyadh must end prolonged efforts to confront Iran. Citing longstanding differences that became a full-blown split after Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric and activist Nimr Al-Nimr, Zarif said the Sunni-ruled kingdom had sought systematically to inflict damage.

“For the past two-and-a-half years, Saudi Arabia has opposed Iran’s diplomacy,” he said at the press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al- Jaafari. “Saudi Arabia has moved against our efforts and, unfortunately, they opposed the nuclear agreement,” Zarif said, also accusing Riyadh of “taking measures against the Iranian people” through its efforts to keep oil prices low. “This trend of creating tension must stop. We need to stand united… and stop those who are adding fuel to the fire,” he added. The spike in tensions comes after Iran last year secured a historic nuclear deal with world powers led by the United States, causing major concern in longtime US ally Riyadh. That deal, when finally implemented, will end sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas industry and could see the Islamic republic challenge Saudi Arabia’s role as the Middle East’s dominant energy and economic power.

The dispute has raised fears of an increase in sectarian tensions in the Middle East that could derail efforts to resolve pressing issues including the wars in Syria and Yemen. Zarif reiterated that the embassy’s ransacking had no official blessing. “All Iranian officials condemn it,” he said. Jaafari, who was to also hold talks with Rouhani, said Iraq was seeking a potential diplomatic role to help resolve the crisis and echoed the concerns about sectarianism. “I have spoken to the foreign ministers of some of the Arab countries to reduce the consequences of this issue and prevent enemies from dragging the region into a war that can have no winners,” Jaafari said. Shiite-majority Iraq has close ties with Tehran. About 2,000 members and supporters of powerful Iraqi Shiite militias demonstrated in Baghdad yesterday against Nimr’s execution. — Agencies

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