The account below uses the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry as a major source. The BICI found that of 35 deaths during the first two months of unrest; 12 were shot by security forces; five victims were themselves security personnel; four were foreign workers, six were due to physical injury or torture. In eight cases the perpetrators couldn’t be identified. The BICI found nine deaths to be instances of “excessive force”.

1)     First fatality: Ali Al Mushaime

Mushaime died on the first major day of protests, 14 February 2011, as police struggled to disperse a protest in Daih. According to the official account cited by the BICI: “Six police officers were surrounded and attacked by approximately 500 demonstrators. Police officers used rubber bullets and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The demonstrators were aggressive and were throwing rocks towards the police officers. The police officers exhausted their supply of rubber bullets and tear gas. They then resorted to shotguns.”

This incident was publicized by protesters, with him being described as a martyr. Mushaime’s funeral attracted a crowd of 1,000. As protesters attending the funeral passed two police cars, one broken down, they focused their rage on the policemen, at first with verbal abuse, then by throwing rocks and assault with metal rods.

According to the BICI: “The seven police personnel at the location began responding to the mourners using sound bombs, tear gas and rubber bullets. Then, according to MoI [Ministry of Interior] reports, mourners became aggressive and came within metres of the police patrol; seizing a police tear gas launcher. At this point, after all other ammunition had been exhausted, police reportedly fired two shotgun rounds at the mourners, after which they evacuated the location.” During this battle Fadel Matrouk was also killed, his “martyrdom” being used to further escalate anger among protesters.

2)      Deaths as Pearl Roundabout is cleared

After several days of occupation of Pearl Roundabout – a major road junction – by protesters, the decision was taken on 17 February 2011 to restore order. The operation was planned for early morning when it was judged that this could be achieved with minimal force. After calls by megaphone to leave the roundabout, security forces moved in and removed demonstrators. Once the majority had departed, a hardcore refused to leave.

According to BICI: Protesters “began resisting and assaulting the police, using stones, rocks, metal rods, swords, and sharp objects. Reports indicate that a number of protestors attempted to run over police officers with cars. Police responded by firing tear gas, rubber bullets and shotgun rounds.” During this chaos police fatally shot Mahmood Abutaki, Ali Khudair and Ali Ahmed – the largest loss of life during the unrest. Interior Ministry personnel have been put on trial over these incidents.

Between Feb 2011–Feb 2012 18 protesters died as a direct result of confrontations with police (BICI). Between Feb 2012–Feb 2013 four rioters died in this way; with just two rioters killed between Feb 2013 and Feb 2014.

3)      Targeting South Asian workers

The BICI cites evidence that extremist elements in the opposition had a strategy of trying to force foreign workers to flee Bahrain. The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society documented hundreds of cases of attacks on South Asian workers, blaming an “organised group within the anti-government movement”.

Abdul Malik Rasool from Pakistan was killed in March 2011. The BICI states that “a gang carrying metal bars and knives” attacked a building housing numerous foreign residents. “One group surrounded the entrance to the building, while a second group broke down the door… and assaulted the residents. The residents who managed to escape the building were met by the group waiting at the entrance… This group beat the deceased to death.” The case of Fareed Maqbul is similar. Four South Asians were killed during the BICI period, and several others have died since, including those who fell victim to explosive devices planted by militants.

4)      Deaths from torture

Five deaths were attributed by the BICI report to torture. Several security forces personnel have been investigated and charged. The MoI investigation into the death of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer resulted in the prosecution of five individuals. The MoI referred charges of manslaughter against two MoI personnel to a military court. Three MoI personnel were charged with failing to report abuse against Saqer. The BICI concluded that his death was attributable to Saqer’s mistreatment in custody. Zakariya al-Ashiri was killed in April 2011 while in custody. The BICI report attributed his death to torture, resulting in prosecution of five.

After April 2011, even according to the opposition’s statistics, there are only around two to four deaths in detention that could be attributed to suspicious circumstances.

5)      Attacks against security forces

Around 2,500 security personnel have been injured in the unrest; many as a result of assault by iron bars, rocks, or firebombs. Ahmed Al Muraysi, Kashif Mandhour and Mohammed Abdulsamad were killed by cars driven by protesters, as the protests took an increasingly violent turn. These incidents were judged by the BICI report to be intentional killings by protesters; one of the protesters who confessed to the killing of the latter two officers claimed that it was in retaliation to the death of a relative.

6) Hit by tear gas canister

Ali al-Sheikh died following a protest in Sitra in August 2011. BICI investigators judged that his death was attributable to being hit in the head by a tear gas canister at close range. Sayed Saeed (Dec 2011); Fadel Al Obeidi (Mar 2012); and Mahmoud Al Jazeeri (Feb 2013) died in similar circumstances; but there have been no such deaths since February 2013; perhaps due to stricter police guidelines about the use of tear gas canisters.

7)      Tear gas casualties?

Between late 2011 and early 2012 the opposition movement alleged numerous fatalities from what they describe as “excessive use of tear gas”. The deaths quoted include people who died a matter of weeks after they supposedly inhaled the tear gas; several where there were disputes between the doctor and the family about the cause of death; and a number with complications related to asthma or genetic illnesses.

Therefore, over a period where the police were increasingly successful in managing rioting with restraint; the opposition has resorted to inflating the casualty figures to create a false impression of what is happening in Bahrain. While it is important that tear gas is used appropriately, tear gas is arguably the most humane means the police have to defend themselves and maintain civil order with when attacked by rioters.

The BICI only identified two cases between Feb-Oct 2011 where tear gas may have been a factor. Between Nov 2011 and Apr 2012 opposition NGOs like the BCHR and Bahrain Watch published lists with around 20 fatalities linked to tear gas. However, tear gas deaths have not featured in their lists since this period.

8)      Sunni victim of protests

Zahra died on 7 December 2011, three weeks after an iron rod became embedded in her skull during a protest in Al Daih (see photo). Because of her Shia-sounding name, she was hailed by Al Wefaq as a victim of police brutality. However, Zahra – a Sunni woman – was able to confirm that she was returning from work, trying to avoid the rioting near her home, when hit by the iron bar thrown from the direction of the protestors.

9)      Drive by shooting

Ahmed Ismael was shot at a protest in Salmabad in March 2012. According to eyewitnesses he was taking photos of the protest when he was shot from a civilian car, which raised suspicions that the assailants were militants hostile to the protest movement; although this was the only incident of its kind. Ahmed’s death came during a period when there had been very few opposition casualties. Opposition and Iranian media outlets lauded him as a “martyr” and “citizen journalist”. During the funeral youths pelted the police with firebombs.

10)  Loyalist “martyr”

18 year-old Ahmed Al Dhafeeri was fatally injured on 18 April 2012 when trying to clear burning tyres placed by protesters near his home in Hamad Town. The tyres were booby-trapped with an explosive device which exploded in his face. Ahmed was transferred to Jordan for treatment but died as a result of the terrible burns.

Ahmed’s family have been lobbying the Government to take action against what they call “terrorist leaders” of the opposition for sanctioning and encouraging such activity. Ahmed’s story aroused sympathy within loyalist and Sunni communities because he died while trying to prevent acts of sabotage and vandalism.

11)  Heart attacks and fallen trees

When you look carefully through the statistics of the Bahrain death toll published by organizations like the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, you will find some surprising inclusions:

  • “Martyr” Hussein Kareem was killed by a “mysterious explosion” while working in the bomb-making workshop above his home. (June 2013)
  • Seventeen-year-old “Martyr” Ali Al Sabbagh was killed while carrying a homemade bomb. (June 2013)
  • “Martyr” Mohammed Al Kasoor was killed when a palm tree fell on him while he was trying to cut down the tree to build a roadblock. (Sep 2013)
  • “Martyr” Hussain Al Baqali died of burns after burning tyres during a bout of rioting. (March 2012)
  • Badria Ali set herself on fire after a prolonged period of depression, following the detention of her son.
  • Other individuals on these lists of “martyrs” died from hypertension, heart attacks or “psychological factors” said to be related to raids on their home or family members being taken into custody. 

12)  Death of an arms smuggler

Following the impoundment of shipments of arms and explosives arriving from Iran, the Bahraini authorities embarked on a series of operations against weapons smugglers, during which substantial quantities of explosive devices and weapons were recovered.

During one of these operations on 8 January 2014 smugglers tried to escape from the police by driving their vehicle directly at the security personnel. According to the Ministry of Interior account, several warning shots were fired before Fadhel Mohammed was shot. Fadhel spent two weeks in hospital before passing away.

Fadhel’s death – immediately after the initiative for the Crown Prince for restarting the National Dialogue – sparked renewed tensions, as Al Wefaq declared him a martyr and thousands of people attended his funeral which was marked by rioting and attacks on police.

13)  Explosion kills policemen

In early 2014 Jaffar Mohammed Jaffar, a detainee, was transferred from prison to hospital where he subsequently died of complications related to the sickle cell anaemia he was suffering from. The opposition declared him to be a martyr who had died as a result of torture and once again Jaffar’s funeral was the occasion for rioting. During this rioting a group of police pursued rioters in Al Dair to a location where a bomb was detonated by remote control. Three police were killed, and several, including bystanders were injured.

This brought the police death toll to 13 and was the largest single loss of life since the early days of the unrest. Unsurprisingly, news of this death resulted in a widespread sense of shock and anger amongst Bahrainis. A group which had been behind other explosive attacks – Al Ashtar Brigades – claimed responsibility.

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