Cablegate: Arson Attack Complicates Parliamentary Standoff
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0163/01 0731336
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 131336Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7672
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000163
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/13/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ASEC BA
SUBJECT: ARSON ATTACK COMPLICATES PARLIAMENTARY STANDOFF
REF: A. MANAMA 40
B. 06 MANAMA 1728
Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(C) Summary: Two arson attacks, one against the property of a prominent Al-Khalifa family member, and a street skirmish in a Shi'a village drew strong, unified condemnation from the government and mainstream political societies, including the Shi'a Al-Wifaq bloc. Al-Wifaq blamed the attacks on "secret cells" and categorically condemned violence and sabotage. Despite this public repudiation, the incidents will likely make it more difficult for the government to defuse a sectarian-tinged standoff within the parliament pitting Al-Wifaq against Sunni blocs, which seek to prevent the questioning of a Minister implicated in the 2006 "Bandargate" scandal (ref B). End summary.
2.(C) Shortly after midnight on March 8 a group of 30 masked individuals used Molotov cocktails to set fire to buildings on a farm owned by Abdulaziz bin Atiyatallah Al-Khalifa near the Shi'a village of Karzakan. (Note: Abdulaziz, a former director of Bahrain's National Security Agency, is a member of the Prime Minister's Court and is the brother of Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Ahmed bin Attiyatallah Al-Khalifa of "Bandargate" fame (ref B). Within the Shi'a community he is believed to be responsible for abuses against Shi'a dissidents in the 1990s when he was head of the Ministry of Interior's CID. End note.) Abdulaziz blamed local villagers, telling the press that they had targeted his property several times since 2002. Karzakan residents denied involvement, claiming that the attackers were not from the village.
3.(U) Also on March 8, Shi'a youth in Jid Hafs blocked streets with burning tires, sofas, and dumpsters. They demanded the release of defendants in the December rioting case. When police attempted to restore order, the youths began throwing stones and, according to at least one report, Molotov cocktails. The Haq Movement circulated photos of young men setting fires and brandishing Molotovs during the confrontation. According to press reports, shopkeepers and other Jid Hafs residents claimed that they did not recognize the instigators and reasoned that they were not from the village. (Note: Bahrain's Shi'a villages are generally small, close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone else.)
4.(C) A second case of arson on the night of March 8 targeted a Salafist MP. Press reports indicated that unknown persons used gasoline to set fire to a "majlis" tent next to the home of Al-Minbar (Muslim Brotherhood) MP Mohammed Khalid. Khalid and Al-Minbar have staunchly opposed efforts to haul Ahmed bin Attiyatallah before the parliament for questioning. (Note: The Bandar Report (ref B) alleged that Al-Minbar and other Salafist groups benefitted from a conspiracy to keep the Shi'a Al-Wifaq political society from capturing a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament. End note.)
5.(U) The Prime Minister met with Al-Wifaq leadership and other government officials on March 9 and condemned the violent attacks on property and police. All political societies represented in the parliament denounced the attacks as well. Al-Wifaq issued a particularly pointed statement blaming "secret cells" for "taking advantage of the political situation" because "they do not want the reforms project to succeed." Al-Wifaq's parliamentary bloc leader Ali Salman reiterated the group's opposition to violence in comments to Ambassador and DCM on March 13. Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa met with Northern Governorate Governor Jaffar Bin Rajab and Shi'a community leaders on March 10.According to press reports, Al-Khalifa reaffirmed his ministry's commitment to preserving the dignity of citizens, but also stressed that the police would hold accountable those who engage in acts of arson, sabotage, and violence.
6.(C) Comment: It is unclear whether the arson attacks represent a change in tactics by Shi'a agitators who have heretofore focused on street violence and confrontations with police. It is also unclear whether these incidents are connected to Haq Movement supporters, though the use of Molotov cocktails bears a resemblance to recent Haq tactics. In this context, we believe Ali Salman's reference to "secret cells" is most likely an indictment of Haq. There is no evidence that would lead us to believe Hizballah was behind the attacks.
7.(C) Comment continued: Despite unequivocal condemnation of the incidents by Al-Wifaq, the attack on Abdulaziz bin MANAMA 00000163 002 OF 002 Attiyatallah's farm will likely make it more difficult for the government to craft a solution to the parliamentary impasse involving his brother. The government's rock-ribbed Sunni base would have viewed sending him off to an ambassadorship abroad as something of an embarrassing step down prior to the attack on his brother's farm. Now, making Ahmed bin Attiyatallah go away could appear to be a humiliating defeat to that core constituency. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI