Security high in Gulf states for New Year

Friday, December 31, 2004

ABU DHABI Several Gulf Cooperation Council states, particularly those with a U.S. military presence, have tightened security for the New Year.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar were reported to have increased security around hotels and other areas frequented by Americans and other Western nationals. All three states contain a significant U.S. military presence.

"Added precautionary measures are being taken around vital installations following high level Gulf coordination to confront terrorism in the region," Kuwaiti Interior Minister Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah said.

GCC officials said alerts of an Al Qaida-aligned attack have been received by several Gulf Arab states. They included Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Yemen, a non-GCC member, was also said to have increased security.

One alert warned that Al Qaida could crash boats filled with explosives into Kuwaiti ports. Officials said this could have been the basis of a U.S. alert for Americans to maintain a low profile in the sheikdom.

"Tips received by the Interior Ministry also indicated that the terror attacks may take place in the next few days, coinciding with warning messages issued by Washington which recently cautioned against terrorist attacks on oil installations during Christmas and New Year celebrations," the Kuwaiti daily Al Watan, quoting Interior Ministry sources, said. "Strict instructions were given to coast guard personnel to be extra alert and maintain round the clock surveillance for any suspicious boats approaching the Kuwaiti coast."

Kuwait has canceled all New Year celebrations at hotels and other public facilities. The move was criticized as a concession to Islamic groups that object to Western-style revelry.

Officials said GCC authorities have been ordered to increase security around oil installations in the Gulf. They said GCC states did not rule out a suicide attack against offshore oil installations.

Bahrain has significantly reinforced security in an effort to prevent an Al Qaida attack over New Year's. Officials said the focus of security forces would be locations frequented by Westerners and other foreign nationals.

Bahrain has a large Western expatriate population, including more than 3,000 U.S. troops. In 2003, thousands of young Bahrainis rampaged through the capital Manama, attacking foreigners, vandalizing night spots and torching cars. Most of the Bahrainis were identified as Shi'ites aligned with Iran. The Interior Ministry has warned Shi'ite leaders and representatives to ensure order in communites in and around Manama. Officials said police and anti-riot units would patrol throughout the weekend. In 2004, New Year's proceeded without incident.

"I have been assured by them that those violating the law will be severely punished," Bahraini parliamentarian Saad Ali, who represents Shi'ite districts in Manama, said. "What happened that night shouldn't happen again and the Information Ministry's tourism directorate should take full measures to ensure hotels are obeying the country's tourism law."

Both Sunni and Shi'ite parliamentarians have protested the use of the kingdom as the so-called watering hole of the Gulf. Bahrain is the only GCC state that permits the drinking of alcohol in public and has become a magnet for both Arabs and Westerners in the Gulf region.

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

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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