Islamist opposition bombs Bahrain hotel

A bomb exploded in the lobby of the Diplomat hotel in Bahrain yesterday, wounding four people, according to the authorities. Opponents of the Bahraini government regarded the bombing last night as almost inevitable after so many months of unrest.

As guests fled the hotel, a telephone call was made to the American news agency, Associated Press, in Manama, by a man claiming to speak for the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain. "Tell the [Bahraini] government which has arrested 2,000 people that after the [Ramadan] feast, we will destroy every place," he said.

Official spokesmen for the Islamist movement - one of four demanding the return of the constitution and democracy to the Gulf emirate, whose parliament was suspended in 1975 - were cautious over any claim of responsibility. "We prefer peaceful methods of achieving our aims but we have warned the government before that if it continues on its violent path, there might be some violent reaction," an official of the Islamic Front told the Independent last night. "

At least 14 Bahrainis, all of them from the Shia community which forms up to 70 per cent of the Sunni-controlled emirate, have been killed in clashes with Bahrain's security police, including a baby reportedly suffocated by tear gas.

The security services, which are led by an Englishman, now blame Iran for the violence, which restarted last month when a small bomb was left in a lavatory of the Royal Meridien hotel, not far from the Diplomat. Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the US naval fleet in the Gulf and allowed American and British fighter-bombers to use its military air base for attacks on Iraq during the 1991 Gulf war.

Perhaps for this reason, the violence in Bahrain attracted as much attention yesterday as the far greater devastation in Algiers, where 17 civilians were killed by two car bombs - almost certainly set off by Islamists - a few hours before the Bahrain explosion. While 14 people have been killed in Bahrain in two years, 50,000 have died in Algeria in four years.

But Algeria does not provide the West with naval bases. Nor is it close to Saudi Arabia, whose own regime would never allow a pro-democratic and reformist Islamist group to come to power in Bahrain.

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