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Iran general warns Bahrain over Shia cleric

Jun 21, 2016, 3:23 AM EDT
Portrait of Sheikh Isa Qassim in one of Bahrain's streets
(Source: جون هاورد/flickr)

Bahrain’s move to strip the kingdom’s top Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, of his citizenship, sparked a stinging response from the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who warned that such a step could lead to an armed resistance and “set the region on fire.” Thousands of people gathered outside Qassim’s home in the village of Diraz west of the capital, protesting against King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Bahrain’s government for acting against the cleric.

In a statement released by the semi-official Fars news agency, General Qassem Soleimani said, “The al-Khalifa [rulers of Bahrain] surely know their aggression against Sheikh Isa Qassim is a red line.”

Qassim, who has been supporting the Shia-led protests for greater civil and political rights in Bahrain, was accused of serving foreign interests and promoting “sectarianism and violence,” writes the BBC. Recently, a court in Bahrain suspended the activities of the leading Shia opposition group, Wefaq National Islamic Society, on charges of spreading “terrorism, extremism and violence” in the country.

Alarmed by the move, the U.S. State Department denied having any “credible evidence” that justified the action against the spiritual leader, notes Al Jazeera. Bahrain, which has been gripped by a political turmoil since a 2011 Shia uprising, has stripped about 250 people of their citizenship over alleged disloyalty. Bahrain’s Sunni Arab Gulf allies supported the country’s government to quell the protests in order to restrict the growing Shia influence in the region.