Today saw the shooting and killing of three Bahrainis on a boat. They were alleged by the Ministry of the Interior to be escaping to Iran. The three killed were part of a group of ten people who had reportedly escaped from Jaw prison in January 2017. The Ministry of the Interior wrote a lengthy account of events here. While it is possible that the MOI version of events was accurate, this post contends that there is little reason to believe that the information released to the public is adequate in allowing anyone to determine accurately the true nature of events.
Firstly, the pertinent information regarding this operation is as follows (from the MOI website).
The Ministry of Interior has named the deceased as Redha Abdulla Isa Al Ghasra, 29, a fugitive sentenced to 79 years and life imprisonment, Mahmood Yousif Habib Hasan Yahya, 22, and Mustafa Yousif Yousif Abd Ali, 35.
Those arrested have been named as Mohamed Jassim Mohamed Jassim Al Abid, 28, Hamid Jassim Mohamed Jassim Al Abid, 28, and Hasan Ali Mohamed Fardan Al Shakar, 22, all of whom were involved in the terrorist attack on Jau Prison and/or aiding and abetting fugitives. Others arrested included Hani Younis Yousif Ali, 21, Ahmed Ali Ahmed Yousif, 20, Ali Hasan Ali Saleh, 38, and Ahmed Isa Ahmed Isa Al Malali, 23, who were named as being involved in the aiding and abetting of fugitives and the concealment and movement of firearms and explosives.
The Coastguard authority said that items found on the vessel included a Kalashnikov assault rifle which was used to attack the coastguard vessels, a GPS system and satellite phone, ID cards, money and personal items. The authority also noted that those arrested confirmed they were in contact with, and due to meet, accomplices in Iranian waters.
Importantly, a bizarre leaked video of the operation was posted by @Alwatan_live. This can be found below (I would suggest you watch it before continuing)
— Alwatan – الوطن (@Alwatan_Live) February 9, 2017
There is also a clearer, more complete version of the video that was shown in a press conference recorded by BTV. It included aerial footage which indicates helicopters were likely present.
The reasons the videos are bizarre is for a number of reasons, including:
- It is edited in a way that makes it seem rather dramatic, with multiple angles taking from multiple points of view
- It does not give a full or convincing account to corroborate the MOI version of events, with, for example, it only showing one man rising up from the fugitives’ boat with a gun (three people were killed). It does not show who shot first.
- The multiple cuts to the video could suggest that the editing sequence was not a chronological account of what happened
- The fact multiple cameras (probably around three) were evidently used to create all the angles suggests there are numerous recordings of the event from different angles, all of which would give a better idea of what happened if left unedited.
- The initial leaked video was also a recording of a video playing on someone’s laptop – who edited it? Why was it edited?
- The audio is not clear
Some of the frames from the video are puzzling. See below.
The above shot shows a smallish boat that presumably had around 10 people in it. The man circled on the right is, from the video, brandishing a gun. However, what is happening on the left. Is someone driving the boat? Is that someone sitting by the steering wheel? Have the others ducked down? (there are meant to be ten in the boat at this point). What is the high vis looking vest? Why is it raised in the picture, but not in the later ones? Is it a person? None of the video shows clear evidence of the faces of those on board. Following this scene, the police fire (fairly recklessly, but perhaps because they were taken by surprise if the video is legitimate).
At the end of the video you see the empty boat belonging to the fugitives. You do not get a clear view of where the victim was, as it would be in front of the steering wheel. If three people were shot thought maybe you’d expect to see blood? There is no blood. There is also an unusal shot of a policeman picking up what I presume is the assailants gun. The assailant cannot be scene, and again there is no blood.
The MOI also released other photographs showing scenes from the police operation. These included photos of a police boat with holes in. As you can see from the first photo of the boat, the bullet holes appear to be on the left of the front of the boat. These, if the video is accurate, would presumably be exit wounds, as this boat, identifiable by the number reflected in the sea, pulled up on the right of the fugitive boat in the video. The shooter would have been on the opposite side of these holes (unless the photo is flipped). However, in another video you see the other side of the boat, where the bullets should have entered, but it doesn’t look like there are many (except one hole). Perhaps this is nothing, but it still is not clear from what people are being presented.
For what was clearly well resourced operation, it is unclear why the security services had to result in deadly force. There are at least three coastguard boats involved. In the above picture you can see two boats, and there is also the boat from which the photo is taken. While there are inevitably procedural questions, e.g. where was this procedure learned, was the engine disabled before the boat was approached?
Opportunity for Propaganda
The MOI were very quick to mention Iran. In addition to releasing a photo of a map stating that the smugglers intended to go to Iran, the MOI’s first tweet, before even announcing the deaths, was about Iran.
PT: 1st operation in Bahrain’s surrounding waters, was undertaken following an attempt by escapees from Jau prison to flee 2Iranian waters
— Ministry of Interior (@moi_bahrain) February 9, 2017
While this doesn’t undermine the potential veracity of the MOI’s statement, it does, along with the bizarrely slick editing of the video, point to a very well planned media event, one clearly designed to show a hard hitting security force ready to defend Bahrain from Iran. It also feeds into the regime’s discourse that Iran is behind the unrest, and the escape of the detainees from Jau.
Whether true or not, if I were a Bahraini (irrespective of political stance), I would want to see an unedited video, and a better account of events from the MOI. This would include a proper explanation of how such a well prepared group of Coasguard and security officers allowed the smugglers to get so far out to sea before killing them.