Syria is training opposition figures in Bahrain, the Gulf island state’s king said in an interview published on Tuesday, in which he also denied systematic rights abuses during state crackdowns on pro-democracy protests earlier this year.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper comes a day after he met British Prime Minister David Cameron, who urged the king to press ahead with national reconciliation and to engage with Bahrain’s opposition.
“We have evidence that a number of Bahrainis who oppose our government are being trained in Syria ... I have seen the files and we have notified the Syrian authorities, but they deny any involvement,” the king said, giving no further details.
King Hamad visited London on Monday, weeks after an independent inquiry found evidence of systematic rights abuses and said Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim rulers used excessive force to cow protesters and detainees.
Syria is dominated by President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and is allied with Shiite Iran, long blamed by Bahrain for stirring trouble among its majority Shiite population.
Bahrain’s Shiites hold frequent protests against what they see as state discrimination in jobs, services and political representation, charges the government denies.
“It is not the policy of the Ministry of Interior to go and kill people on the roads. The policemen and soldiers involved in the killings did not take notice of the discipline side of matters,” King Hamad said, adding that wrongdoers would be held accountable.
Last month the king replaced the head of the state security apparatus as part of a shakeup after the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, headed by international rights lawyers.
Bahrain is a key Western ally in the region and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.