Bahrain's top human rights activist targeted two days after Obama speech

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Teargas grenades were fired in the middle of the night into the home of the leading human rights activist on Bahrain -- in what may be the answer of hardliners running Bahrain to President Barack Obama's call for an end to the brutal crackdown on the Persian Gulf island allied to the United States.

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and a relentless critic of Sunni Muslim minority government, said four grenades were fired at the house at 3:30 a.m. Saturday in the village of Bani Jamra, Bahrain, and two broke through the windows in quarters occupied by his brother, Nader, and his family. A third went off in the compound.

He called the attack an attempt "to murder a member of my family to pressure me to stop my human rights activities" and described a harrowing scene of living quarters filled with acrid smoke that makes breathing almost impossible.

"We had very frightening moments rescuing my brother and his wife and his daughter, as they were close to suffocation," Rajab told McClatchy Saturday night.

It was the second time in a month that Rajab's house had come under such an attack, following an attack on April 18 when three teargas grenades were fired.

During his policy speech on the U.S. response to the "Arab spring" reform movement Thursday, Obama singled out when he denounced "mass arrests and brute force" the government has used against the majority Shiite population.

According to Rajab, who is one of the best informed people on human rights abuses on the island off the Saudi coast, there's been no sign of a letup in the use of security forces to block peaceful protests.

Indeed, civilians who had been released after weeks of jail have been ordered to sign oaths saying they would not take part in anti-government protests again, and in the past four days have been ordered to appear again before a military judge, he said.

Meanwhile, protests continued in the predominantly Shiite village of Sitra Saturday. A YouTube video showed at least 20 youths marching and chanting: "We want the regime to go," the mantra of the Arab Spring, as well as demanding that the government not apply the death penalty that a judge ordered following a secret trial of anti-government activists.

Bahrain has arrested hundreds of those who protested in the Pearl Roundabout from mid-February to mid-March, detained doctors and nurses who treated protesters shot or attacked by police, put the editors of the only opposition newspaper on trial and destroyed dozens of Shiite mosques and religious buildings.

Leading political figures in the country are in detention, most without charges, and their families say they've been brutally mistreated.

Rajab said luckily for his family, the teargas canisters landed on a tile floor and not on a carpet, which could have caught fire and killed the entire family while they were asleep. "My family have got nothing to do with my human rights work," he said, pleading for help to stop the government from organizing more attacks.

After an attack in mid-April, Human Rights Watch noted that the grenades were manufactured in the United States and were of a type to which only the Bahrain Defense Authorities had access.

Now it appears the Bahrain government has found a new supplier. Rajab said this time, the grenades were of a smaller dimension than in mid-April, and there were no markings of manufacture.


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