By Reem Khalifa
MANAMA, Bahrain: Mobs with iron rods and sticks ransacked a supermarket belonging to a major Shia-owned business group Wednesday, a company official said, as part of a spike in violence in the Gulf nation in retaliation for a bomb attack on police.
The attack appeared linked to a wave of reprisals and intimidation by suspected Sunni groups angered by the 14-month-old uprising by Bahrain’s Shia majority seeking to weaken the powers of the kingdom’s Sunni monarchy.
The growing unrest, which has included vigilante-style attacks in some Shia areas, also could escalate worries by Formula One teams about whether to participate in the April 22 Bahrain Grand Prix. The race was called off last year amid security fears and Bahrain’s leaders are pushing hard to bring back the event as a sign of stability in the island nation.
Amir Jawad, a board member for the Jawad Business Group, said the mob smashed windows and caused other damage to the supermarket in what he called a “systematic” series of attacks. The crowds also roamed outside the headquarters of the company, which owns supermarkets, cafes and fast-food outlets.
Jawad said company security guards detained at least two suspected attackers. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
“The vigilantes used iron, steel and wood sticks,” he said.
Jawad sites have faced sporadic vandalism since the uprising began in February 2011 in the strategic Gulf nation, which is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. Bahrain’s Shias account for about 70 percent of the population, but they claim they face widespread discrimination and are kept from top government or military posts.
Nearly 50 people have died in the Arab Spring’s longest-running street battles. Apparent Sunni mobs have stepped up reprisals following a blast Monday that injured seven policemen. On Tuesday, Bahrain said four suspects had been arrested in connection with the blast.
In some Shia areas, apparent Sunni hard-liners carrying knives and sticks staged hit-and-run attacks late Tuesday and set up roadblocks, said witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity in fear of receiving pressures from authorities.
The largest Shia political group, Al Wefaq, claimed that security forces failed to confront the “militias.”