The massive police and security action on May 23 in the village of Diraz in the area surrounding the fortress-like house of Shia cleric Isa Qassim has further exposed the extent of support anti-government elements seem to find in Shia quarters – and from Shia leaders – at a time when the tiny kingdom of Bahrain is trying to shed the memories of the 2011 troubles and promote social harmony.
Only two days earlier a court in Bahrain had convicted Isa Qassim for illegally collecting funds and for money-laundering and sentenced him to one year in jail which was suspended for three years in view of his advancing years and frail health.
The court had also fined him 101,000 Bahraini dinars (about $265,000) for unauthorisedly collecting funds for charity. He also faces expulsion from Bahrain after the government revoked his citizenship last year for alleged foreign links and fomenting violence though he has denied the charges. Iranians have been crying hoarse with indignation ever since as Isa Qassim was among the Tehran regime’s highest-profile pointsmen in Bahrain to foment trouble, making inflammatory statements at the gatherings of his followers.
Diraz Village Stronghold
Ever since the charges were filed against him and his trial started, Isa Qassim never appeared in court but confined himself to his village villa where his followers had over months created a ring of human shields. They blocked all access roads to his residence by all possible means. Digging up roads, putting up huge concrete blocks in the middle of streets, and taking up residence in makeshift huts and portakabins to be ready in case of any official attempt to approach his abode.
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The authorities had been overlooking this situation for months even though it put the villagers to a lot of inconvenience. Children going to school, people going to offices or to the city and even garbage trucks accessing the area had a tough time negotiating the streets. The trucks often just could not access them.
Even so, the government would have left the matter there since the court verdict permitted him to remain house-bound and not be put in jail. But reports about something more sinister forced the security authorities’ hand. It was learned that a number of fugitives from the law – those being sought by the police and the courts as well as quite a few of the convicted terrorists who had escaped from prisons – had taken shelter in Isa Qassim’s villa.
This is what prompted police and the security apparatus to get up and act. So tough was the resistance by the hardened criminals that as they rained Molotov cocktails, axes, knives, firebombs and metal rods from the rooftops, 31 police officers were injured. Five outlaws were also killed in the operation. No less than 286 fugitives were arrested in the operation and the rods cleared of all blockades and barricades with the help of bulldozers. In the process, one unexploded grenade with Iranian markings was also found confirming yet again Iran’s secret hand in arming the thugs.
But common wisdom says this may not be the end of the matter. The government will have to be extra careful as everyone waits and watches how and when the Iranian handlers of the Bahrain anti-government cells react and direct that reaction.