On 28 December 2013 the Bahraini coastguard impounded shipments of arms, ammunition and bomb-making equipment coming in from Iran. This led to a series of operations over the following days, including the identification of several sites in Bahrain where weapons and explosives were stored and the arrest of a number of those involved in the smuggling operations.
In one of these operations on 8 January a group of weapons smugglers were targeted. They resisted arrest and according to Interior Ministry statements these wanted men drove a vehicle directly at security men, who fired several warning shots before firing a lethal shot which struck Fadel Muslem in the head. The youth driving the car alongside Fadel is in custody.
Fadel spend two weeks in hospital before passing away on 25 January. According to the Interior Ministry, Fadel was part of a group involved in “smuggling weapons and explosives”. The State Prosecutor said that the group had received training abroad to carry out “terrorist acts”, noting that members had been arrested with “weapons and explosives”.
Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, the prominent opposition grouping, has failed to provide a credible account for the shooting of Fadel Muslem. They imply that he was a peaceful protester, gunned down in a ‘premeditated’ killing. But they know very well that Bahrain’s police do not carry live ammunition for policing rioting and protests.
It was not enough for Fadel to have been shot, the allege that he was ‘savagely’ tortured in detention and proclaim him to be a ‘martyr’.
Al-Wefaq then assembled thousands of people to attend Fadel’s funeral on 28 January in Diraz. As is routine during these events, funeral-goers proceeded to throw Molotov cocktails at police and blockaded the roads around that wider area of Bahrain.
Every sympathy has to go to the family of Fadel, who – whatever the circumstances of his death – must be going through terrible grief. Far better that Fadel had been subject to a fair trial, than for this ordeal to have played out in this manner.
However, we should stop and question the actions and motivations of Al-Wefaq in exploiting the incident in this manner, to incite rioting and inflame passions at a time when intensive efforts are in place to return everybody to the Dialogue table.
It is deeply disturbing for Al-Wefaq to unquestioningly proclaim somebody to be a “martyr”, when they stand accused of weapons smuggling and trying to fatally attack police. They should at best remain silent until the facts of these incidents are better understood.
The weapons-smuggling operation is an established fact. There is widely accessible video footage of the boat being impounded loaded with weapons. There is also footage of the arms recovered from subsequent raids against weapons storage locations. Furthermore, evidence has been logged with the public prosecutor regarding the incidents leading to Fadel’s death and those others arrested in the same operation will be put on trial.
Al-Wefaq appear unable to differentiate between those of their supporters who have broadly advocated peaceful protest; and those militants who have been involved in the series of bombings and attacks across Bahrain over the last two years.
In past months when individuals have blown themselves up in their own bomb-making workshops; or carrying explosives; they have been duly proclaimed martyrs and their deaths have been exploited to whip up anger against the police and to trigger new rounds of rioting and violence.
It is particularly distasteful when the genuine grief of families at a funeral is exploited as an excuse for a day of rioting, vandalism and firebomb attacks.
Al-Wefaq behave as if they exist in a separate universe from the weapons shipments, terrorist attacks and growing militancy; but as the flag-bearers of the protests, rioting and unrest they are the ones who have condoned and given support to the actions of these terrorists.
It is nice when prominent Al-Wefaq figures put out vague statements opposing violence; but if they want to show that they are a potential partner towards peace and reconciliation, there should be explicit condemnation of each terrorist atrocity; an explicit rejection of militant plots planned and prepared from Iran; and care and diligence in distancing themselves from those involved in these terrorist acts.
The evidence against Fadel Muslem appears damning, but we should not prejudge the necessary investigations. We should likewise, at least expect of Al-Wefaq not to rush to proclaim the heroism and martyrdom of a figure suspected of involvement in plans to murder innocent Bahrainis.
Over the coming days we can expect Al-Wefaq to be proclaiming Fadel’s death as yet another excuse not to go back to talks; even though his shooting occurred two weeks before the Crown Prince’s important initiative.
Citizens for Bahrain has been consistently promoting the National Dialogue as a necessary process to allow all sides to work together for a unified political vision for Bahrain. However, for this process to have any chance of success there is urgent need for confidence-building measures on both sides. The security services need to be doing their work with maximum restraint so we don’t end up with any further inflammatory incidents which could derail the process.
However, we have yet to see Al-Wefaq taking the necessary step of distancing themselves from those closely associated with terrorist acts. It is all very well to say that they reject the path of violence for achieving their political aims; but their actions and public stances must also reflect this commitment.