Counter-Terrorism: Bahrain And The Iranian Underground


August 29, 2010: Bahrain recently warned Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that it had uncovered a plot involving hundreds of sleeper agents, organized into 40-50 cells. The agents, often poor locals, as well as men from Iran, Yemen and Lebanon, were financed by religious leaders and Islamic political parties. The plan was to launch coordinated attacks in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain proceeded to arrest and question 250 suspects. Kuwait put the usual suspects under greater scrutiny, and Saudi Arabia said nothing. Bahrain said the attacks were to be carried out if Iran were attacked (presumably by Israel.)

It's unclear if all this is related to internal unrest in Bahrain, or is another of many cases where Iran has been caught supporting dissidents or terrorists in Arab countries. Bahrain itself is an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Population is only 700,000, and a third of those are foreigners (non-Arab). The native Arab population is 70 percent Shia, but the Sunni minority runs the country, and the economy. The Shia are more religious and culturally conservative. This often leads to unrest, and most of the recently arrested terrorist suspects were also Shia active in criticizing the government.

One of the Shia complaints is that Bahrain has long been pro-West, mainly as a way to prevent takeover by Iran (or mainland Arabs). Bahrain is currently the main base for the U.S. 5th Fleet, and a major American military operation in the region. Bahrain replaced Beirut as the most popular Arab banking center, during the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. You can get a drink, and much else, in Bahrain, thus it is also a major tourist destination, mainly for Saudis looking for some relief from the lifestyle police back home. Bahrain has become a major American base in the Persian Gulf, with about 3,000 U.S. personnel serving there. During the 1990s, Bahrain began providing port facilities for destroyers and frigates enforcing the Iraqi embargo, and other support for the U.S. carrier task force that operates in the Persian Gulf. The Bahrain air base of Shaikh Isa was fitted out to support about a hundred U.S. warplanes. Britain bases aerial tankers in Bahrain as well.

Earlier this year, the Bahraini government revealed that it had 125 special security troops in Afghanistan, helping to provide security for American bases. The Bahraini troops are multi-lingual, and have replaced local translators, and security guards, in controlling who gets into bases. The local translators would sometimes collaborate with local truck drivers to smuggle contraband (like drugs) onto the bases. Bahrain has their troops in Afghanistan on six month tours, and will keep replacing them.

Until quite recently, many other Moslem, particularly Arab, nations had sent troops to Afghanistan, but had kept it quiet. But suicide bombing, last December,  of a U.S. base in Afghanistan, revealed that one of the eight people killed was Ali bin Zeid, an agent for Jordanian intelligence. The fact that Zeid was identified was unusual. But Zeid was a cousin of the king of Jordan, and it was apparently thought better to just announce his "martyrdom" and avoid all the rumors that would appear otherwise. There was no uproar in the Arab world over this Jordanian presence in Afghanistan. Apparently, Islamic terrorists have become so unpopular in the Moslem world, that it is no longer considered scandalous for Moslem troops to work with non-Moslem troops to kill the common enemy.

One of the best kept secrets in the war on terror is the number of Arab commando and intelligence troops serving in Afghanistan. Several Arab nations have quietly contributed intelligence and commando units to the counter-terror effort there. Until recently, this was kept quiet, but it was an open secret in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. These commandos are usually pretty busy back home, keeping local Islamic radicals in check. But some of their home-grown radicals have shown up in Afghanistan and Pakistan (usually after things got too hot for them back home), and it followed that these Arab governments allowed some of their counter-terror troops to continue the pursuit into the pro-Taliban areas of Afghanistan. Arrangements with the Pakistani government has allowed some of these operatives to work both sides of the border. These Arab counter-terrorists often get a crack at any Arab terrorists caught in Afghanistan, or Pakistan. The combination of interrogation skills, and cultural affinity, sometimes gets results where Western interrogators have failed.

There have been some casualties among the Arab commandos, who take part in combat operations. Those wounded or killed are referred to, if at all, as "international troops." The Arab operatives are eager to serve in Afghanistan, which is seen as the Big Leagues within the commando community. But there's also the self-interest angle. Many Arab counter-terrorist specialists are on al Qaeda's hit list, and some of these men even have prices on their heads. So it's sometimes a question of getting the other guy, before he gets you.



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