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Aug 24, 10:48 AM EDT

Bahrain arrests former Shiite lawmaker after trip to Iran


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AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) -- Bahrain detained a former lawmaker after he visited Iran on charges of financing terrorism and being involved in a bombing that killed two police officers, accusations the Gulf nation's largest opposition group dismissed Monday as "absolute nonsense."

Hasan Isa, a prominent Bahraini cleric, was detained Aug. 18 at Bahrain International Airport. An Interior Ministry statement late Sunday did not identify Isa by name, but said the suspect it holds is also accused of distributing money he'd raised during rallies to wanted fugitives and a "terrorist group," without elaborating.

Shiite opposition group al-Wefaq identified Isa as the suspect. It said he was innocent and was being targeted under laws that criminalize peaceful political activism. Al-Wefaq earlier said that Isa's lawyers have not been allowed to see him.

Police have arrested five other suspects in connection with the July 28 bombing in Sitra, just south of the capital, Manama. Police investigators say those suspects are connected to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, as well as the Iranian-armed and -funded Lebanese Hezbollah group.

Meanwhile Monday, secular opposition figure Ibrahim Sharif pleaded not guilty to charges of attempting to topple Bahrain's government, promoting political change through force and inciting hatred in a speech last month. Defense lawyer Mohammed Ahmed said Sharif, who once headed the secular Waad party, maintains he only called for political reforms.

Sharif was arrested a day after his July 11 speech, just weeks after spending more than four years in prison for his role in Arab Spring-inspired protests in Bahrain.

Bahrain has faced low-level unrest more than four years, sparked by widespread 2011 protests among the country's Shiite majority demanding greater political rights from the Sunni-led monarchy. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

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