Bombing Rocks Bahrain Hotel as Violence Escalates
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Guests at the seafront hotel heard a deafening blast, then were showered with glass and ceiling tiles as the lobby filled with smoke.
A bomb went off Sunday night in the lobby of the 15-story Diplomat Hotel, injuring four people in the most serious act of violence since a wave of anti-government unrest began in Bahrain several weeks ago.
``Treacherous and depraved, these groups and those supporting them will not get away with such atrocities,″ the government-guided Gulf Daily News, published in English, said in an editorial today.
There were conflicting reports about whether an Islamic group from Bahrain’s majority Shiite Muslim community was responsible for the blast in the island state, a financial hub in the Gulf and host to a key U.S. Navy base.
A man claiming to speak for the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, a Shiite group believed to be backed by Iran, claimed responsibility in a telephone call to The Associated Press.
``We put a bomb in the Diplomat Hotel,″ the man said, speaking in Arabic-accented English. ``Tell the government, which has arrested 2,000 people, that after the feast, we will destroy every place.″
The feast he referred to follows the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. It begins Feb. 19 or 20, depending on the sighting of the crescent moon.
BBC World Service radio later quoted an unidentified spokesman for the Islamic Front in London as denying the group was involved.
Guests streamed out of the hotel Sunday, crying and hugging each other.
Carol Mason, an American guest, said she and her husband just grabbed their luggage and ran as the lobby filled with smoke.
``This was our last day here, and we carry sweet memories of this country, though the bad one will always remain with us,″ she said.
Dozens of people have been injured and arrested in the unrest over the past month, but no deaths have been reported.
Opposition leaders say the protesters want the restoration of parliament, suspended in 1975 for criticizing the government, freedom of speech, more job opportunities and the release of all political prisoners.
Bahraini authorities accuse Iran of inciting the violence, which has largely involved the emirate’s Shiite majority. Iran, whose population is overwhelmingly Shiite, denies involvement.
Bahrain’s Shiites comprise just over half the state’s 500,000 citizens. Despite the country’s wealth, most Shiites are poor and tens of thousands are unemployed. The Al Khalifa family belongs to the mainstream Sunni sect of Islam.