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Bahrain's Sunni rulers target Shiite mosques

The Bahraini regime has bulldozed dozens of Shiite mosques or other religious structures in the crackdown on a mainly Shiite opposition movement.

By Roy GutmanMcClatchy Newspapers / May 11, 2011



Manama, Bahrain

In the ancient Bahraini village of Aali, where some graves date to 2000 B.C., the Amir Mohammed Braighi mosque had stood for more than 400 years – one of the handsomest Shiite Muslim mosques in this small island nation in the Persian Gulf.

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Today, only bulldozer tracks remain.

In Nwaidrat, where antigovernment protests began Feb. 14, the Momen mosque had long been a center for the town's Shiite population – photos show it as a handsome, square building neatly painted in ochre, with white and green trim, and a short portico in dark gray forming the main entrance.

Today, only the portico remains.

"When I was a child, I used to go and pray with my grandfather," said a local resident, who asked to be called only Abu Hadi. "The area used to be totally green, with tiers of sweet water wells."

"Why did they destroy this mosque?" Abu Hadi wailed. "Muslims have prayed there for decades."

In Shiite villages across this island kingdom of 1.2 million, the Sunni Muslim government has bulldozed dozens of mosques as part of a crackdown on Shiite dissidents, an assault on human rights that is breathtaking in its expansiveness.

Authorities have held secret trials where protesters have been sentenced to death, arrested prominent mainstream opposition politicians, jailed nurses and doctors who treated injured protesters, seized the health care system that had been run primarily by Shiites, fired 1,000 Shiite professionals and canceled their pensions, detained students and teachers who took part in the protests, beat and arrested journalists, and forced the closure of the only opposition newspaper.

Nothing, however, has struck harder at the fabric of this nation, where Shiites outnumber Sunnis nearly 4 to 1, than the destruction of Shiite worship centers.

The Obama administration has said nothing in public about the destruction. Bahrain – and its patron, Saudi Arabia – are longtime U.S. allies, and Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

27 religious structures destroyed

Members of the Shiite opposition assembled a list of 27 mosques and other religious structures demolished or damaged in the crackdown. A tour by McClatchy of several townships suggests the number of buildings destroyed is far greater.

The demolitions are carried out daily, Shiite leaders say, with work crews often arriving in the dead of night, accompanied by police and military escorts. In many cases, the workers have hauled away the rubble, leaving no trace, before townspeople awake.

Bahrain's minister of justice and Islamic affairs, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al Khalifa, defended the demolitions in an interview, claiming that any mosque demolished had been built illegally, recently, and without permission.

"These are not mosques. These are illegal buildings," he said.

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