Bahrain police firing tear gas and shotguns entered a town on Tuesday morning where a months-long sit-in has supported a prominent Shiite cleric who had his citizenship stripped by the government. At least one protester was killed and others were wounded, activists said.
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry earlier wrote on Twitter that the operation targeting Diraz was to “maintain security and public order.” It called the area a “haven for wanted fugitives from justice.”
It’s unclear who the raid was targeting in Diraz, home to Sheikh Isa Qassim. Authorities offered no other details.
Activists shared mobile phone stills and videos showing youths throwing stones and climbing on an armored personnel carrier. Gunfire could be heard as white smoke from tear gas hung in the air.
At least one protester was killed, said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. Activists shared images of other protesters suffering what appeared to be birdshot wounds.
Police have besieged Qassim’s hometown of Diraz for months, tightly controlling access. He could be deported at any time after authorities stripped him of his citizenship last June over accusations that he fueled extremism. His supporters deny the allegations and called his trial politically motivated.
Shiites and others took part in 2011 Arab Spring protests for greater rights from the Sunni monarchy of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base. Bahrain put down the protests with the help of forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Since then, Bahrain has seen low-level unrest. But the yearlong crackdown on dissent has raised the stakes, with local Shiite militant groups claiming some attacks. Bahrain long has accused Iran of aiding militants, something the Shiite power denies.
Meanwhile, activists have been imprisoned or forced into exile. Independent news gathering on the island also has grown more difficult, with the government refusing to accredit two Associated Press journalists and others .