5 killed, scores arrested in Bahrain raid on Shiite cleric’s protesting home village

A raid by Bahraini security forces on a protesting village resulted in at least five people being killed and almost 300 arrested. Activists posted images of armored vehicles and injured civilians amid the crackdown.

The police stormed Diraz, the home of Ayatollah Isa Qassim, on Tuesday morning after months of encircling it with checkpoints and restricting access. Qassim was sentenced to a year in prison on Sunday, suspended for three years, sparking anger among his supporters. The charges against him included illegal fundraising and money laundering, and may lead to his deportation. Last year he was stripped of full citizenship of Bahrain.

At least five people were killed during the Tuesday clashes, according to police and activists. Dozens were injured, including 19 security troops, who were hurt by stones and petrol bombs thrown by village residents and activists, who were hit with birdshot and inhaled tear gas.

Security forces entered Diraz, the cleric’s home town, early on Tuesday “to impose security and general order after the area became a haven for people wanted in security cases and fugitives from justice,” according to an Interior Ministry statement.

At least five people were killed during the Tuesday clashes, according to police and activists. Dozens were injured, including 19 security troops, who were hurt by stones and petrol bombs thrown by village residents and activists, who were hit with birdshot and inhaled tear gas.

“The situation is terrifying ... It's making people really angry and the young men are taking to the streets. The mosque speakers are calling out 'God is Great', urging people to come out and protect Sheikh Qassim,” activist Ebtasam Alsaegh, from the neighboring village of Bani Jamra, told Reuters by phone.

Bahrain, a small Sunni-ruled island nation and a key ally of Saudi Arabia, has been plagued for years by protests from its Shiite majority. In 2011, its government crushed mass protests with the help of the Saudis, after activists demanded democratic reforms and greater respect of human rights.

The Gulf country denies accusations by international human rights groups of excessive use of force and discrimination, and accuses Iran - Saudi Arabia’s regional rival - of fomenting dissent.

The crackdown in Diraz comes days after Bahrain’s King Hamad met US President Donald Trump in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The island monarchy hosts America’s Fifth Fleet, a key component for the US projection of power in the Persian Gulf.