Yesterday Hussain Abdullah, a ‘field commander’ for the February 14th Coalition Youth Movement died in an explosion at his family home. Grisly photos of his charred corpse were then posted online, and three theories have emerged explaining his cause of death. They are as follows; 1) He was killed in a tragic accident when an air conditioning compressor or gas canister exploded at his home workshop (Hussain was an AC repair man) 2) He was assassinated by thugs/MOI goons 3) He died making a bomb.
The second theory has been endorsed by the February 14th Coalition, who claim that Hussain was killed in an operation carried out by the state intelligence services. They have subsequently declared Hussain a martyr. The third theory emanates from the Ministry of the Interior, who issued a brief statement saying that Hussain died while making a homemade bomb on his roof in the village of Saar. The MOI statement is as follows:
The Director-General of the Northern Governorate Police has announced the death of a 35-year-old man with a criminal record who suffered serious burns after an explosion on Tuesday evening//The Director-General said the initial investigation showed the man was making a bomb sitting on the roof of his family home in Saar when it exploded//The police recovered five more homemade bombs from the scene, one of which was ready for use. The bomb squad was called in and the device was defused and some detonators, wires, batteries and mobile phones used in making bombs were seized, in addition to a camera and laptop.
As we can see from the statement, the MOI are quick to discredit the victim, making sure to mention his ‘criminal record’. While the MOI’s statement bares all the hallmarks of their customary attempts to stigmatize the February 14th movement, it is unclear how the February 14th movement know that it was an assassination attempt by the regime. If the first explanation is correct (that Hussain died in a tragic accident), then both the Feb 14 Movement and the MOI are clearly trying to exploit the incident for political reasons. Incidentally, although it was reported that Hussain’s family denied both the MOI’s and Feb 14’s account of events, Hussain brother went on video saying he believed it was an assassination attempt.
Given that Hussain’s death comes at a time when the regime are making a concerted effort to discredit the February 14th Coalition, the accusation that he was making a bomb when he died merely compliments the recent narrative aimed at stigmatizing the movement. Indeed, this narrative demonizing the protest movement in Bahrain was taken to new level on 12 June 2013, when Bahrain’s State Television channel broadcast an expose on a number of ‘terrorist organizations’ in Bahrain, including the February 14th Coalition. Bahrain Television claimed that some of February 14th’s members had admitted to being involved in a number of dangerous and criminal acts, and also stated that ‘violence is the approach of this organization, despite their claims of a commitment to peacefulness’ (see video at 07.47). BTV also claimed that the organization is headed by Hadi al-Mudarrasi, an exiled Iraqi cleric who was also accused of fomenting unrest in Bahrain during the eighties.
Although the regime’s strategy is clear – to discredit reformist movements at all costs, it is not quite clear what the February 14th Movement is up to. If Hussain did die in a tragic explosion, why not say so and simply draw attention to the fact the MOI fabricated the bomb-making story. If he was making a bomb, then why be so candid? After all, the February 14th movement have already publicly endorsed using violence in certain contexts (namely in self-defence and not directed at civilians).If he was assassinated, then what evidence is there? (Update: I was directed by @FreedomPrayers to an article on http://www.feb14media.com that claims the security forces stormed Hussain’s workshop before the incident, and refused to let anybody near it for some time. In this time a bomb was planted and cameras installed so the bomb could be detonated when he was near it – make of this what you will). It is also possible that neither the MOI nor the February 14th Coalition know what happened, and are simply exploiting the situation.
Historically speaking, such incidents are not without precedent. In 1973, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Arabian Gulf reportedly died after blowing himself up while making a bomb. Although some people believed it was staged by the British-led intelligence services, it remains unclear what happened. Similarly, it was reported that back in 1996 that Salman Ali Al Tayton, his wife and child were killed when the the MOI blew up their house (thanks @emoodz for drawing my attention to this). The MOI claimed a gas cylinder in the house exploded. Indeed, the truth of any of these incidents will forever be clouded by insufficient facts or partisan sentiment.
Unfortunately, any of the three explanations given in the case of Hussain are not without merit. I say unfortunately because the element of doubt benefits the regime. One cannot assert with any degree of certainty the actual events that took place, and so the strength of any argument claiming that the MOI concocted the story is inevitably diluted by having to give even the merest acknowledgement to the MOI’s version of events. When we cannot prove for certain, we cannot discount.