Middle East

Bahrain looks to deter citizens from fighting abroad

In this photo taken on Tuesday Feb. 25, 2014, this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian rebels praying at the frontline of Sheikh Najjar village, in Aleppo, Syria.(AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

DUBAI: Bahrain moved Wednesday to deter citizens from joining Islamist fighters abroad following similar action by other Gulf countries aimed at stemming the flow of homegrown jihadists to Syria.

The ministry said it has proposed an amendment to its anti-terror law, which currently prescribes a maximum five-year sentence for fighting abroad, pledging "more deterrent measures against citizens committing or taking part abroad in mass violence or combat."

The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011 with peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar Assad but descended into a civil war when his forces attacked demonstrators, is believed to have drawn thousands of foreign fighters.

Sunni militants have flocked to Syria to support the rebels, while Shiite fighters -- mainly from Lebanon and Iraq -- support Assad's forces.

The ministry statement did not clarify whether it was referring to Sunni Islamists or Shiites accused of links to Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

Bahrain has been deeply divided since a 2011 uprising led by its Shiite majority against its Sunni monarchy, which brutally crushed the revolt.

The Syrian conflict "has attracted some Bahraini citizens," the interior ministry said in a statement carried by BNA state news agency.

"The ministry of interior advises Bahraini citizens not to participate or get involved in regional or international conflicts."

The ministry has ordered more investigations, as well as the tracking of social media websites that recruit or assist fighters, BNA reported.

It also ordered the monitoring of donations and financial transactions linked to extremists.

The proposed tighter rules come after neighbouring Saudi Arabia toughened its punishment for citizens fighting abroad earlier this month, and with a pro-government Kuwaiti MP proposing similar legislation.

Saudi King Abdullah issued a decree stipulating up to 20 years in jail for Saudis who are members of "terrorist groups" and join fighting abroad.

Saudi is a key backer of the Sunni-led rebels battling to overthrow Assad, but has long feared the radicalisation of its own citizens, particularly since a local Al-Qaeda affiliate carried out a string of attacks from 2003-2006.





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