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Bahrain's Sunni rulers target Shiite mosques

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McClatchy visited three other sites where "before" photos of the destroyed mosques showed they were well maintained, decades-old structures.

Some sites had a wistful air. At the Sheikh Aabed Mosque in the village of Sitra, once a ramshackle building that residents said was more than a century old, prayer rugs and other religious paraphernalia covered the ground.

US official: Bahrain's Sunni leadership is 'vindictive'

The State Department told McClatchy that it's "concerned by the destruction of religious sites." The statement noted that the Bahraini government had international obligations to preserve the common cultural heritage.

In private, U.S. officials are harsher. One, who's not in Bahrain, said that by bulldozing Shiite mosques and persecuting the political opposition, the government was treating its people like a "captive population."

Another U.S. official visiting the area described the Sunni leadership as "vindictive" and indicated the Obama administration was deeply worried about Bahrain's rapid downward spiral. Both officials asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Shiites have long complained of bias and discrimination here, despite massively outnumbering the entrenched Khalifa dynasty, whose prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman al Khalifa has held the office for the past 40 years.

In mid-March, the government, after a month of protests, abandoned dialogue with moderate Shiites and Sunnis and invited Saudi Arabia to dispatch some 1,500 troops to help quell the unrest. The government imposed a state of emergency and began a crackdown on dissent. Among the first government acts after Saudi troops arrived was the destruction of the iconic Pearl Square, the traffic circle where demonstrators had camped out for weeks.

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