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Islamic State calls for attacks on US bases in Bahrain

Sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze participate in sea and anchor detail following a port visit at Manama, Bahrain.

CASEY J. HOPKINS/U.S. NAVY

By E.B. BOYD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 8, 2016

The Islamic State has called on its followers to carry out attacks in Bahrain, including on U.S. installations, ahead of a high-powered international meeting.

The annual Manama Dialogue is scheduled to take place on the island country this weekend. The gathering brings together Persian Gulf and other security ministers to discuss regional developments. Both Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson are scheduled to attend.

The prime purpose of the Islamic State video, released earlier this week, appeared to be to inspire attacks on the country’s Shiite majority population. The Islamic State has sought to foment discord between that group, which forms the majority of the population, and minority Sunnis, who include the country’s ruling family and many members of its security forces.

The video also showed images of other Bahrain targets, including the country’s air force, the Bahrain-based Gulf Air airline, the King Fahd Causeway which links the island to the Saudi mainland, and other sites in the country’s capital, The Associated Press reported.

It specifically called for attacks on U.S. installations, presumably including the U.S. 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain.

“The muzzles of your weapons should not miss those American bases where from military aircraft took off to pour their flames on the monotheists in the territories of Islam,” one Islamic State fighter says, according to a transcript provided by the U.S. jihadi-monitoring SITE Intelligence Group, according to the AP. The fighter appears to be referencing the use of Bahrain-based bases to support air operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As of last year, about 8,300 U.S. personnel were based in Bahrain, along with about 1,300 dependents.

A spokesman with the 5th Fleet said force protection experts within U.S. Naval Forces Central Command had assessed the video, but he declined to say what ac-tion, if any, had been taken.

“We use our detailed assessment to, when required, adjust our force protection posture and measures to ensure the safety of our units and personnel,” Lt. Cmdr. Richard Chernitzer said in an email. “For obvious reasons we don’t discuss specific details of our force protection measures and posture,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain issued a security message to its employees on Thursday, urging continued vigilance about “security threats.” It did not reference the Islamic State video in particular. But it did mention “calls for action” by “extremist groups,” in addition to spontaneous and sometimes violent political demonstrations of the kind the country has seen over the last five years

Bill Law, an analyst with TheGulfMatters.com, said it is unlikely the Islamic State could carry out a successful attack against the Manama Dialogue meeting itself. Bahrain has beefed up its security forces and cracked down on dissent following domestic unrest in recent years. There are now about 25,000 police officers in a country with a population of less than one million, Law said.

A spokesman for the Bahrain government told AP that local authorities “continue to take all necessary steps to preserve security and stability within the kingdom.”

More vulnerable, however, would be neighborhoods like Juffair, which is full of restaurants and bars that U.S. service personnel and foreign tourists like to frequent. “That could be a target,” Law said.

Chernitzer declined to specify whether U.S. personnel would be restricted from any particular areas.

Carter is scheduled to give the opening address at this weekend’s meeting. A spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense said the Pentagon is aware of the video but did not say whether any alterations would be made to the secretary’s schedule.

Law said that the purpose of the video might simply be to score propaganda points for the organization, which is suffering heavy losses in Iraq and Syria. It is also finding it harder to recruit fighters.

The theme of this year’s gathering is security. “From Daesh’s point of view, to threaten (the meeting) when the focus is security is a good propaganda move,” Law said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chris Church contributed to this report.

boyd.eb@stripes.com
 

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