A Bahraini police vehicle patrols a street following a protest on February 12, 2016 in the mainly Shia village of Sitra, south of Manama.
Executions spark protests in Bahrain
They are the first executions in Bahrain in six years
(CNN)Bahrain has executed three men convicted of killing three police officers in a 2014 bombing. The move sparked protests in the island nation and could further raise tensions between the country's Shiite majority and its Sunni rulers.
The men were killed by a firing squad Sunday morning in the presence of a judge, physician and a Muslim cleric, State news agency BNA reported, quoting the head of the Terrorist Crimes Prosecution, Ahmed El-Hamady.
The executions came less than a week after Bahrain's highest court upheld their death sentences over a bomb attack in March 2014, the agency said. The executed men belonged to a militant Shia group, the state news agency said. Seven other defendants received life terms.
"Sami Mushaima, Ali Al-Singace and Abbas Al-Samea were convicted of manufacturing and planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that were detonated remotely after luring first responders into the fatal ambush," said a statement released Sunday by Bahrain's London Embassy.
"Those convicted were members of the listed terrorist group Saraya al-Ashtar, whose members have been convicted of attempting to smuggle weapons and explosives into the kingdom to carry out similar violent attacks."
The two Bahraini police officers and one Emirati officer were killed in the attack during clashes with protesters. The Emirati policeman was part of an Arab Gulf Council force deployed to help Bahraini authorities quell a protest movement.
Demonstrations first broke out in Bahrain in 2011, during the region's wave of protests called the "Arab Spring." Bahrain's capital, Manama, saw huge -- largely nonsectarian -- street protests five years ago, with weekslong protests taking over the city's then-iconic Pearl Monument, which was subsequently torn down by the government.
Activists took to the streets Sunday to protest the death sentence.
The international rights group Amnesty International said the men were convicted in an "unfair trial."
"This is a dark day for human rights in Bahrain," wrote Samah Hadid, Amnesty International deputy director for campaigns in Beirut. "These executions, the first to be carried out since 2010, are a deeply regressive step for a country whose authorities' have repeatedly trumpeted their commitment to human rights."
Maya Foa, a director of international human rights group Reprieve, said in a statement posted on its website: "It is nothing short of an outrage -- and a disgraceful breach of international law -- that Bahrain has gone ahead with these executions. The death sentences handed to Ali, Sami and Abbas were based on 'confessions' extracted through torture, and the trial an utter sham."
Reprieve said the executions went ahead despite serious concerns that the convictions were based on evidence obtained under torture.
The three men are the first people executed in Bahrain since 2010, and the first Bahrainis executed since 1996, according to Repreive.
Iran, an overwhelmingly Shiite nation and sharp critic of Bahrain's government, also strongly condemned the execution.
Sarah Sirgany reported the story from Abu Dhabi. Chandrika Narayan reported and wrote the story from Atlanta. Yousif Basil contributed to the story.
Bahrain has executed three Shia men who were convicted of killing three police officers in a bomb attack in March 2014, the authorities say.
They were killed by a firing squad on Sunday, state news agency BNA reports.
Human rights officials say there are serious concerns that evidence may have been obtained under torture.
But the Bahraini government, which rarely carries out executions, has said the decision was taken "in accordance with international law".
The executions of the three men, who Bahraini officials say were part of the listed terrorist group Saraya al-Ashtar, are the first since a 2011 uprising, led by the Shia majority, calling for greater political rights.
The Sunni-ruled kingdom has escalated a crackdown on its Shia critics over the past year, including revoking the citizenship of the country's most prominent Shia Muslim cleric.
The UN's special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, Agnes Callamard, condemned the executions in a tweet saying: "Torture, unfair trial + flimsy evidence: these are extrajudicial killings."
Maya Foa, head of the UK-based human rights group Reprieve, said: "It is nothing short of an outrage - and a disgraceful breach of international law - that Bahrain has gone ahead with these executions."
The death sentences handed to the three men, she added, "were based on 'confessions' extracted through torture, and the trial an utter sham".
But a statement from the government said evidence "included in part fingerprints on the IEDs, phone records which confirmed the locations of the three men (e.g., at the time of the attacks) and wide-ranging witness statements".
The statement added that the decision to execute the men met "all nine of the United Nations Safeguards" - including "clear and convincing evidence" which left "no room for an alternative explanation of the facts".
They were executed a week after their death sentences were upheld by a high court.
The executions are the first to be carried out in Bahrain in more than six years, according to Reprieve.
"This is a black day in Bahrain's history. It is the most heinous crime committed by the government of Bahrain and a shame upon its rulers... This act is a security threat to Bahrain and the entire region," Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy told Reuters news agency.
Protests erupted in several Shia villages over the news of the executions. When demonstrators blocked roads with burning tyres, police responded with tear gas.
A police officer was wounded when his patrol came under fire on Saturday in the Shia village of Bani Jamra, to the west of the capital Manama, the interior ministry said.
David Cameron visited Bahrain this week to meet with the Kingdom's Crown Prince and business leaders, Middle East Eye can reveal.
The visit, which saw Cameron thanked for his “prominent role” in advancing Bahrain-UK ties, comes after recent reports that the former Prime Minister is following in the footsteps of Tony Blair and has set up a private firm to handle his post-10 Downing Street affairs.
The former prime minister, whose period in office saw ever closer diplomatic and military ties with Bahrain despite ongoing human rights concerns, arrived in the country on Tuesday and held meetings with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.
The Bahraini royal, who welcomed Cameron at Riffa Palace, praised the former British prime minister and welcomed long-standing ties between Bahrain and the UK.
However, pro-democracy campaigners have expressed concern over the visit, amid speculation that the 49-year-old former PR executive could be attempting to cash in on international contacts gained while in office.
Marc Owen Jones, a campaigner with Bahrain Watch, told MEE: “During his term as prime minister, Cameron paid little regard to human rights in Bahrain, and now, without the obligations or responsibility of office, he is likely to go the way of Tony Blair, using his elite network for lucrative personal gain.”
Britain’s current ambassador to Bahrain, Simon Martin, also attended the meeting with Cameron - who resigned as prime minister in June after backing the losing side in the EU referendum - and the crown prince, prompting suggestions his visit was being supported by the British government.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), told MEE: “Under David Cameron, Britain sold more than £15bn in weapons to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and consistently failed to apply British leverage positively in Bahrain. He's no longer prime minister, and he should not use his privileged position to provide further political support for the repressive Gulf kingdom.
“The presence of the UK Ambassador at the meeting raises more questions about this visit. Former UK officials should not turn into political mercenaries for this repressive Gulf kingdom.”
'The presence of the UK Ambassador at the meeting raises more questions about this visit. Former UK officials should not turn into political mercenaries for this repressive Gulf Kingdom'
- Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Former prime ministers can be accompanied by as many as eight close protection officers on foreign trips, but the figure for Cameron’s Bahrain visit is not thought to have been as high.
A Foreign Office source in London told Middle East Eye that the British government “did not pay for transport or security for the trip”. It is not known whether Cameron or the government of Bahrain paid for the trip. MEE has contacted a representative of Cameron for comment but has received no response.
The former prime minister, who also stepped down as an MP after the EU vote, was accompanied on the trip by Laurence Mann. Mann served as his former political secretary, but continues to work for Cameron as a private citizen.
Mann was awarded a CBE by Cameron’s government in 2015 and now serves as the sole director of The Office of David Cameron Ltd, the firm which oversees the former leader's business interests, according to records held by Companies House.
During the visit to Bahrain, Cameron also visited the headquarters of the Bahrain Economic Development Board (BEDB) and met with Bahrain’s transport and telecommunications ministers. The BEBD is central to Bahrain’s plans to invest some much-needed momentum into its financial services and non-oil industries.
Tough road ahead for Cameron?
Cameron will no doubt be aware of the wide-ranging criticism his predecessor Tony Blair faced when he offered his services in the Middle East.
Last month, sources close to Cameron told the Sunday Times newspaper that it was not unusual for a former prime minister to set up a firm to manage their affairs.
Earlier this month the government sought to play down reports in the Daily Mail that Cameron would be recommended as a future NATO secretary general.
Cameron is thought to have been looking for a suitably high-profile role, and has also been rumoured to be considering a role in international development.
Former prime ministers can sometimes struggle to find a place in public life after leaving Downing Street, and Cameron would need Theresa May’s blessing for any major international role. He is also understood to be unlikely to have many allies in Brussels in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Nonetheless, he appears to be enjoying his departure from office. Before Christmas it was revealed he had returned to his previous passion of grouse shooting, a pastime deemed too controversial while he was in office.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Our overseas embassies only provide assistance for visits of former Prime Ministers and former ministers when they support UK government objectives.
“During Mr Cameron’s recent visit to Bahrain, British Embassy officials accompanied the former Prime Minister to some meetings which supported UK objectives of cooperation on reform, defence and other shared interests. This support was provided at no cost to the taxpayer.”