The US State Department announced on Tuesday the designation of al-Ashtar Brigades (AAB) – an Iran-backed terrorist group in Bahrain – as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation.
In announcing these designations, Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan A. Sales emphasised that “from Africa, Europe, North America, Asia, and the Gulf, Iran is using terrorist proxies to extend its malevolent influence and upend international peace and stability. Al-Ashtar is yet another in a long line of Iranian sponsored terrorists who kill on behalf of a corrupt regime. Today’s designation serves notice that the United States sees plainly what Iran is trying to do to Bahrain through its proxy, the terrorist group Al-Ashtar.”
Established in 2013, AAB is an Iran-backed terrorist organisation aimed at overthrowing the Bahraini government. AAB has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks against police and security targets in Bahrain. In March 2014, AAB conducted a bomb attack that killed two local police officers and an officer from the United Arab Emirates. In January 2017, AAB shot and killed a local police officer. AAB has also called for violence against the Bahraini, British, Saudi Arabian, and US governments on social media.
In January 2018, AAB formally adopted Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) branding and reaffirmed its loyalty to Tehran to reflect its role in an Iranian network of state and non-state actors that operates against the United States and its allies in the region. Additionally, AAB members have received weapons and explosives from Iran, training at IRGC-funded camps in Iraq, and senior AAB members have taken refuge in Iran to evade prosecution by Bahraini authorities.
In recent years, Iran has redoubled sponsorship of militant groups in Bahrain. Bahraini security forces have intercepted large quantities of advanced Iranian weapons shipments and explosives, including armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). Since 2015, Manama has detained dozens of Bahraini nationals linked to the IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah,
A year ago, In June 2017, the al-Ashtar Brigades were designated as terrorist organisations by Bahrain, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The al-Ashtar Brigades has stated that it is loyal to the government of Iran, and has adopted branding consistent with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
This announcement comes as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised that Iran Action will have a high cost. Pompeo met Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, while on his short trip to the UAE.
"The one that we are most focused on today is that we deny Iran the financial capacity to continue this bad behavior," Pompeo said. "So it's a broad range, a series of sanctions aimed not at the Iranian people, but rather aimed at the single mission of convincing the Iranian regime that its malign behavior is unacceptable and has a really high cost for them."
Meanwhile, top Trump administration officials are working to stop Germany from allowing Iran to fly more than $350 million in cash out of the country and back to Tehran as part of a bid by the Iranian regime to restock its coffers ahead of a major financial crackdown by America.
A White House official said “the Trump administration is working to stop the German government from allowing this transfer that Iran is trying to get as part of an ongoing scheme to skirt tough new US economic sanctions, which were put back into effect after President Donald Trump decided to abandon the landmark nuclear deal. Much of the money Iran has spent recently has funded its war efforts in Syria, Yemen, and other hot spots” the official added.
Recently, Washington has announced new sanctions on Iran and ordered all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by November and foreign firms to stop doing business there or face US blacklists. One of the world’s biggest shipping lines, France’s CMA CGM, announced on Saturday it was pulling out of Iran for fear of becoming entangled in US sanctions after US President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear agreement in May.