Bahrain fears New Year's repeat of attacks on Westerners

Monday, December 29, 2003

ABU DHABI Bahrain has bolstered security amid concern that Western nationals will come under attack by Islamic insurgents over the New Year.

Bahraini officials said the kingdom plans to deploy police, anti-riot squads and security forces to Manama for the New Year holiday. They said authorities have braced for the prospect of Islamic attacks on Western tourists and soldiers who plan to celebrate Christmas and New Year in nightclubs and bars.

The United States has warned its nationals to avoid travel to Bahrain over the holiday season, Middle East Newsline reported. The State Department has raised the prospect of an attack on Americans and Western tourists in the Gulf Cooperation Council kingdom.

"The United States government has received terrorist threat information specific to Bahrain," the U.S. embassy in Manama said. "The U.S. embassy in Manama encourages all American citizens to avoid places where Westerners are known to congregate and to reduce unnecessary travel. The embassy is seeking more information on this threat."

Over the last year, Bahrain was rocked by a series of riots against Westerners in Manama. Last week, scores of Bahrainis rampaged through Manama in what began as a peaceful demonstration in the capital. The rioters smashed shop windows and led chants against the ruling family.

On New Year 2003, more than 2,000 Islamic militants, most of them Shi'ites, attacked Westerners on the streets and in hotels in downtown Manama. Officials said the riot was planned, with Shi'ites recruited to travel to Manama for the unrest.

Officials said authorities plan to impose tough penalties for anybody who attacks Westerners over New Year. At the same time, authorities have also warned nightclubs to keep their revelry indoors to avoid angering Islamic militants.

"This is an Islamic country and any celebration that flouts Islamic values and society's traditions should be banned to ensure that such an incident doesn't happen again," Bahraini parliamentarian Ali Saadi said. "We are not in the West. We are in Bahrain."

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