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Who Are the Al-Ashtar Brigades, Iran’s Terror Proxy in Bahrain?


Amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, as well as terrorist attacks by Iran-backed Houthi militants in the Red Sea, Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, little attention has been given to the Shiite Iran-backed terrorist group in Bahrain, the Al-Ashtar Brigades.

The Al-Ashtar Brigades (AAB) has a history marked by violence and conflict in Bahrain. Established in 2013, the AAB emerged as an Iran-backed militant group with the goal of overthrowing the Bahraini government. The group split from the 14 February Youth Coalition, Bahrain's oldest Iran-aligned Shia militia, to pursue its radical Islamist agenda.

Since its inception, the AAB has carried out numerous terrorist attacks targeting police and security forces in Bahrain. These attacks have resulted in fatalities and posed a significant threat to the stability and security of Manama and the wider Persian Gulf area. The group has employed various tactics, including bombings, shootings, and assassinations to achieve its objectives.

One of the deadliest attacks attributed to the AAB occurred in March 2014, when a bomb attack claimed the lives of two local police officers and an officer from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The AAB's activities have not been limited to Bahrain alone. The group has also targeted the interests of Bahrain's allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom (U.K.), and Saudi Arabia. Through social media channels, the AAB has openly called for violence against these governments, calling for the creation of a Shia Islamic-governed Bahrain.

In January 2017, the AAB heightened tensions with Bahraini authorities by shooting and killing a local police officer. The act of violence prompted the Bahraini government's crackdown on the group and intensified efforts to dismantle its operations. However, the AAB continued to pose a significant threat to security in Bahrain and the wider region.

The AAB's ties to Iran’s regime have been a subject of U.S. and international concern. The group has received weapons, training, and financial support from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon.

Senior AAB members like Alsayed Murtadha Majeed Ramadhan Alawi, the group's Iran-based leader, and Ahmad Hasan Yusuf, another Iran-based leader involved in explosives training and supplying AAB terrorist fighters with explosives, funding, and weapons to engage in terrorist operations, have sought refuge in Tehran to evade prosecution from American, European, and Persian Gulf states.

In January 2018, the AAB formally adopted the branding of Iran's IRGC, reaffirming its allegiance to Tehran and signaling its alignment with Iran's regional agenda. The move further strengthened the perception by American officials of the AAB being an extension of Iran's influence in the region. It also prompted the U.S. State Department to designate the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in July 2018.

In 2018, Nathan Sales, the U.S. State Department's Coordinator for Counterterrorism, characterized AAB as another organization in “long line of Iranian-sponsored terrorists who kill on behalf of a corrupt regime.” Following the January 2020 U.S. drone strike against the IRGC's Quds (Jerusalem) Force Chief Qasem Soleimani, AAB released a joint statement, eulogizing the terrorist-supporting general.

In early February of this year, AAB expressed their condolences to the Iran-backed Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades, following the death of one of its key commanders in a U.S. drone strike.

Despite efforts by Bahraini authorities to combat the AAB's activities, the group continues to remain a potent threat to stability in Bahrain and the wider region.

Related Story: First Israeli Parliamentary Delegation Makes Official Visit to Bahrain

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