Q&A: Attacks on Bahrain’s Police

June 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

In an email, Walid Salman writes:

Bahrain’s police are attacked every day by protestors using Molotov cocktails and other lethal devices and there have been reports that police officers use unnecessarily lethal force to respond to them. Do you think Bahrain’s police force responds appropriately to the threat they face?

Thank you for your question Walid. Truthfully, I feel that attacks on Bahrain’s police force often go unnoticed in the Western press. Like in the United States, many Bahrainis look to our police force as heroes who help keep us safe. As such, it is very difficult to watch violent attacks against the police.

Although many protests in Bahrain are peaceful, some of them have become increasingly violent in the past few months. In January, Bahrain’s leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, ordered his followers to “crush the police” in one of his weekly Friday sermons. Following his announcement, attacks on police have intensified. Each night, protestors throw hundreds of Molotov cocktails at police patrols in well-coordinated attacks. These incidents have resulted in the serious injury of hundreds of police officers. Bahrain’s burn units have never been busier. Unlike in the United States where every police officer carries a hand gun, the vast majority of Bahrain’s police force is armed with only non-lethal forms of defense, such as tear gas. From time to time, mistakes do happen, but Bahrain’s police officers exhibit a great deal of restraint in the face of real threats to their safety.

It is always perilous to consider direct comparisons, but please indulge me for a moment. Last month, during the NATO Summit in Chicago, four people were arrested for planning to attack police and other high value targets with Molotov Cocktails. These individuals were charged with three crimes: conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and possession of an explosive or incendiary device. Bail was set at $1.5 million for each suspect.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report did find that Bahrain’s security forces had at times responded disproportionately and excessively. Acting on the BICI’s recommendations, Bahrain has begun prosecuting those responsible and has undertaken a comprehensive overhaul of the police force with the help of former Miami-Dade Police Chief John Timoney to ensure this never happens again. As Bahrain continues its path of reform, it is important that the international community understands the threat Bahrain’s police force faces every night and that its restraint in the face of such threats should be recognized and commended.

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