Bahrain's leading Shi'ite cleric Isa Qassim gives a rare speech as a translator is seen behind him at Saar Mosque, west of Manama. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
DUBAI - 23 May 2017: Bahraini security forces on Tuesday raided the home of the kingdom's top Shi'ite Muslim spiritual leader and arrested a number of people, activists and a security official said.
Although the cleric, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, was not among those detained, the operation is likely to raise tensions in Bahrain, days after U.S. President Donald Trump said Washington's relationship with the Sunni-ruled kingdom, long strained over its human rights record, would improve.
Activists reported that one demonstrator was killed by security forces in the village and several others wounded by birdshot while protesting against the raid.
"The operation in Diraz was based on intel that several fugitives connected to serious acts of terrorism and the killing of a policeman were harbored in the village," a security official told Reuters.
The interior ministry said in a statement that fifty wanted people were arrested in the raid on the village.
The operation took place two days after a Bahraini court convicted Qassim of collecting funds illegally and money laundering and sentenced him to a suspended one-year year jail term.
"The operation has nothing to do with (Qassim)," the official said, adding that the cleric was not arrested.
Video and pictures distributed by activists online showed a about 20 masked policemen outside the gate of a house, in what they said was the raid. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the images.
Ebtasam Alsaegh, from the neighboring village of Bani Jamra, told Reuters mosques were calling residents onto the streets to protect Qassim.
"The situation is terrifying ... It's making people really angry and the young men are taking to the streets. The mosque speakers are calling out 'God is Great', urging people to come out and protect Sheikh Qassim," she said by phone.
Bahrain in 2011 crushed an uprising by its majority Shi'ite community demanding reforms giving them more representation in the country, ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy.
The government believes the opposition seeks to overthrow it by force and believes its arch-foe Iran has aided in deadly militant attacks on security forces.
Qassim faces expulsion from the kingdom after authorities revoked his citizenship last year for alleged links to Iran and fomenting violence, charges he has denied.
Bahraini MP Abdullah bin Huwail said in a statement the security operation showed the government's resolve to confront an Iranian-backed security threat.
"Some areas in Diraz village had transformed into a teeming sanctuary embracing terrorists, saboteurs and fugitives from justice," bin Huwail, the head of the parliamentary council on national foreign affairs, defense and security council said.
In his first visit abroad to the Saudi capital Riyadh, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday Washington's relations with Bahrain were set to improve, after tensions with his predecessor Barack Obama over the kingdom's rights record.
Bahrain denies any discrimination or systematic excessive use of force.
Human Rights Watch condemned the Diraz raid as a crackdown on free expression. It said it was no coincidence it occurred two days after a "convivial" meeting between Trump King Hamad.