Overview: There were no successful terrorist attacks in Bahrain in 2020, but domestic security forces conducted numerous operations to preempt and disrupt attack planning. Bahrain is a major non-NATO ally, hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, and participates in U.S.-led security initiatives, including the International Maritime Security Construct to protect commercial shipping in the region. In December the United States and Bahrain launched the inaugural U.S.-Bahrain Strategic Dialogue, which reviewed bilateral cooperation across sectors and surveyed emerging and transnational threats. Bahrain continued to offer its support for countering Iran’s malign activities in the region. Reports of mistreatment, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and security force-perpetrated abuse continued over the rating period. According to international media and NGO reports, confessions have been obtained through torture. The Government of Bahrain initiated numerous programs intended to improve relations between communities and security forces.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in Bahrain in 2020.
The Bahraini government continued to prosecute, convict, and sentence individuals on terrorism-related charges. On November 3, the High Criminal Court sentenced 51 defendants to prison terms ranging between five years and life imprisonment on charges of forming and joining a terrorist group that acted under orders from Iran’s IRGC. Twenty-seven of the 51 defendants were tried in absentia.
In July the Court of Cassation, Bahrain’s highest court, reaffirmed the death sentences of Mohammed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa for their principal roles in the 2014 killing of a police officer. Before the ruling, the Special Investigations Unit had determined that additional forensic evidence not available during the initial trial prompted the court’s reconsideration of evidence, which had included torture allegations. A final decision regarding the death sentence was pending a determination by King Hamad at year’s end.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bahrain is a member of MENAFATF and the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, and it supports U.S. government counterterrorism finance efforts. Its FIU, the Financial Intelligence Directorate, is a member of the Egmont Group. Bahrain is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group (CIFG).
In August, Bahrain implemented several recommendations outlined in its 2018 FATF Mutual Evaluation Report, notably establishing an interagency ministerial-level Counterterrorism Committee to develop policies and strategies to combat terrorism financing and money laundering, as well as implementing sanctions and designations. In October the Bahraini government created a dedicated Financial Crimes Unit within the Public Prosecution Office.
Bahrain’s National Counterterrorism Committee is chaired by the interior minister and its members include the ministers of justice; Islamic affairs and endowments; foreign affairs; finance and national economy; information affairs; and defense affairs; as well as the Central Bank of Bahrain Governor, National Intelligence Agency Chief, Chief of Public Security, and Deputy Secretary-General of the Supreme Defense Council. The stated goal of the committee is, “combating extremism, fighting terrorism and its financing, as well as countering money laundering.” The committee will identify individuals and entities on the national terror list; assess the sources and threats of “extremist ideology,” terrorism, and money laundering; and suggest legislation and policies to counter these threats.
On March 31, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court sentenced three former officials at Future Bank, an entity designated by the United States under domestic counterterrorism authorities, to 25-year sentences on money-laundering charges and levied individual fines of $1.3 million. All three are Iranian citizens residing outside of the country. In addition, the court fined each of Future Bank’s shareholding banks, Iran-based Bank Saderat and Bank Melli, as well as Bank Saderat Doha, $1.3 million, for assisting the Government of Iran in circumventing international financial sanctions. In July the Court convicted an additional former Future Bank employee in absentia and imposed additional fines in relation to wire-stripped transactions.
In July, in collaboration with other TFTC member states, Bahrain sanctioned six individuals and entities affiliated with ISIS terror-support networks in the region.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs heads the country’s efforts to counter terrorist radicalization pursuant to the 2016 National Countering Violent Extremism Strategy.
The Bahraini government continued public outreach initiatives such as the community police program, which works to bridge the divide between the Bahraini Shia community and the police force, in both neighborhoods and public schools. The Ministry of the Interior continued to implement the Bahrainuna (“We are Bahrain”) initiative to promote a shared, national Bahraini identity.
There is no overall strategic messaging campaign to counter terrorist narratives, although Bahraini leaders publicly promote peaceful coexistence and national harmony in public awareness messaging. Government restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association may increase the possibility of violent extremist radicalization.
In December the Justice Minister announced that more than 4,200 prisoners had received alternative sentences since 2017 and were released from prison before the end of their prison terms. The minister confirmed that 1,069 prisoners were placed in jobs as part of their community service requirement. Bahrain applied alternative penalties to priority groups, which includes juvenile detainees. The King also announced pardons during the reporting period, including of 169 prisoners on December 16. Prison conditions may increase the likelihood of radicalization to violence, though alternative or reduced sentencing likely reduces the risk of prisoner exposure to violent extremist recruitment and radicalization.
International and Regional Cooperation: As of December, members of the Bahrain Defense Force remained deployed — but in reduced numbers — in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition’s operations against Houthi militants and AQAP. Bahrain is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League.