Expatriates flee Bahrain as fear of terror spreads

FIVE weeks after he moved his family to Bahrain to escape the terrorist violence in Saudi Arabia, Desmond Montgomery is on the move again after threats by Islamic militants to make the Gulf island their next target.

The architect, 43, is disturbed by recent boasts on extremist websites that alQaeda supporters are in the final stages of plotting an attack there.

His company had considered relocating to Dubai, but that too has been mentioned by militant groups as another target in their expanding war.

There has been a debate, conducted in part on extreme Islamist websites, as to whether al-Qaeda and its affiliates should concentrate their attacks against Westerners inside Iraq or spread them to other targets in the Gulf, including Bahrain and Dubai.

Mr Montgomery, who is from South London, said that his mind was made up to leave Bahrain when police said they had found plans on computers for some sort of chemical attack by a gang of militants who had allegedly already picked targets on the island.

He had just found a villa to rent and his two sons have secured places at a local school for next term, but Mr Montgomery said: “I have come to the conclusion nowhere in this region looks to be beyond al-Qaeda’s reach.

“I know of other expatriates who fled from Saudi who feel the same. I worry this place will be next. I will miss the Gulf, but I just don’t feel safe any more.”

Hotels, housing complexes and restaurants on the island are not as well defended as they are in Saudi Arabia, where 90 people have been killed in terrorist attacks.

Some of Bahrain’s entertainment centres for expatriates were noticeably quieter at the weekend after police said that the six militants they have in custody were aiming at “government, economic and tourist facilities”.

The authorities say that some of the suspects have links with militant figures in Saudi Arabia. Mr Montgomery had lived in a compound in Riyadh that was bombed by terrorists last year and concedes that the psychological warfare waged on the internet has succeeded in driving away Westerners. The al-Qaeda leaders in this region have adopted the tactic of broadcasting their intentions.

Counter-terrorism experts in the region say that there is clearly a struggle between those who want to concentrate their war in Iraq and local cells who argue they can better harm America and its allies by opening new fronts.

Bahrain is an obvious choice. It is home to the American Fifth Fleet, which apparently shares the sense of unease because the Pentagon has just evacuated nearly a thousand dependants and non-essential staff from the island. The US Department of Defence is also considering closing its Bahrain School, which has been operating for more than 30 years.

Expatriates still living in fortified compounds in Saudi Arabian cities often make the 15-mile drive across the causeway to Bahrain, which has a more liberal regime, permits alcohol and allows women to wear Western dress.

The recent exodus from Saudi Arabia caused property prices to double in Bahrain last month as companies tried to prevent staff leaving by moving their headquarters.Places at Bahrain’s 30 private schools are full for next term.

The Bahrain authorities admit they face a dilemma over dealing with al-Qaeda’s menace. Officials in the capital, Manama, say they do not want to be accused of covering up recent arrests but are worried that such publicity leads to Bahrain being unfairly portrayed as unstable.

Lawyers for the six suspects say that the arrests came after US pressure for greater curbs on militants. Abdullah Hadhem said that the accusations against his clients were being levelled for “political reasons”. All six face life sentences if they are found guilty.

Nabeel Yacoub al-Hamer, the Information Minister, insisted: “It was Bahraini security forces, not a foreign government, that investigated and found enough proof to confirm these people were planning to commit criminal acts.”

Investigators said that they found photographs of targets but would not divulge what they were. Chemical products and details of explosives were discovered at some of the suspects’ homes.

Prosecutors said that there was evidence that some of the six were linked to militants who have been fighting US-led forces in Iraq

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