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BAHRAIN Bahraini group denies flouting rules to aid Syria rebels

Says contributions were offered by members on personal basis

By Habib Toumi, Bureau chief
August 12, 2012
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Manama: A Bahraini Islamist society at the centre of a controversy over visits by its members to Syria to offer donations to the Free Syrian Army, has rejected charges that it broke the law.

Bahrain bans societies and groups from raising funds for foreign entities or giving donations to non-Bahrainis without the permission of the competent authorities.

“We did not break the Association Laws and in fact giving donations is not part of our objectives,” Al Asala, the exclusive expression of Salafism in Bahrain, said in a statement. “What happened is that some members of our society, driven by the urgent calls of religion and pan-Arabism, gave donations to the Syrian people. The donations were in the name of the Bahraini people, and not Al Asala,” the society said.

Last week, Abdul Halim Murad, Al Asala’s leader and one of its four representatives in the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament, said that he and other three members, MP Adel Al Mouawda, former MP Hamad Al Muhannadi and Faisal Al Ghareer, travelled into Syria from Turkey and met representatives of the Free Syrian Army to hand over donations “from the Bahraini people”.

Murad wrote on his Twitter account that it was a moral duty to assist the Syrian people and said that Bahrainis should display more compassion for them. He also posted pictures of meetings with members of the Free Syrian Army.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry said that it was not aware of the visit and that the presence of the current and former lawmakers in Syria had not been coordinated with its services. “No one has informed us about the trip to Syria or submitted a request to visit the country,” the ministry said. “We do urge all Bahraini citizens to avoid going to conflict areas to ensure their safety.”

Reacting to allegations that the society broke the rules by raising funds for the Free Syrian Army, the Social Affairs Ministry said that it had no jurisdiction over political societies and that they fell under the Justice Ministry.

Bahrain does not have an ambassador in Syria after it recalled its head of mission from Damascus for consultations last year.

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