Bahrain is beefing up security measures around the country’s mosques over threats made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, the interior ministry said.
The measures were taken after a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in neighbouring Kuwait last week, in which an ISIL member killed 27 people.
Security volunteers trained by the civil defence were deployed in different parts of the country to support the work of the police on Friday, when large numbers of Muslims flock to mosques to perform noon prayers.
Police forces imposed stronger measures around the country’s biggest mosques and screened worshippers as they entered to pray.
Last Saturday, ISIL commander Turki al-Binali, a Bahraini who has been stripped of his citizenship, announced on Twitter that “the next attack after Kuwait” would be in Bahrain.
Bahraini media said Binali travelled to Syria in 2014 to join the upper ranks of the ISIL group. Turki’s cousin, Mohammad Bin Essa al-Binali, who also joined ISIL, worked as an official in the interior ministry before his defection.
Any sensible government or a sensible person who saw what ISIL did in the Gulf and around the world will take ISIL threats very seriously.
ISIL’s statement came a day after the attack in Kuwait, which the government said was carried out by a Saudi citizen, and for which ISIL claimed responsibility. In May, ISIL targeted Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia on two consecutive Fridays. The group considers Shia Muslims to be heretics.
Jamal Fakhro, a member of the parliament, said the government is taking the threats “very seriously”.
“Any sensible government and sensible person who saw what ISIL did in the Gulf and around the world, will take ISIL threats very seriously,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The threat is not only today. It is a daily threat. The government will do its best because there is a legislative authority that will hold them accountable in case something goes wrong.”
Bahraini journalist Reem Khalifa reported heavy presence of security forces in Northern Governorate and helicopters hovering over the area where she is based. She also said that the internet service was slowed down significantly, adding that it was a security measure the government usually took during protests and unrest.
“The nearby al-Sadeq mosque is a big Shia mosque that is a potential target,” she told Al Jazeera.
Many mosques in the capital, Manama, are located in crowded narrow streets, making them easy targets, Khalifa added.
Call for national unity
Bahraini officials met with Sunni and Shia religious figures to coordinate efforts to secure places of worship.
Abdullah bin Rashid al-Khalifa, the governor of the Southern Governorate, called on preachers and scholars to emphasise national unity and moderation in their Friday sermons.
Shia Muslims comprise the majority of Bahrain’s population but the country is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.
Over the past four years, Bahrain witnessed unrest after the eruption of Shia-led protests inspired by the so-called Arab Spring uprisings in the Arab world. The protesters were met with a deadly crackdown by the police and dozens of activists were arrested.
The ISIL threat has spurred an increasingly reconciliatory narrative among some in Bahrain, as the government expressed its determination to ensure the safety and security of the country’s Shia population.
The Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Discourse on Thursday called for carrying out joint Sunni-Shia Friday prayers in some of the country’s mosques.
“This initiative coincides with the unfortunate events taking place in neighbouring countries where places of worship are being targeted and extremist ideas are being spread,” the foundation said in a statement.
Follow the reporter Basma Atassi on twitter: @basma_