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Bahrain says three killed in hunt for prison-break fugitives

Bahrain's government claimed the escaped prisoners were attempting to flee across the sea to Iran
A US Navy sailor takes part in multinational training exercises aboard the USS Ponce in the Gulf off the coast of Bahrain's capital Manama (AFP)

Three fugitives were killed on Thursday as they tried to flee by boat from Bahrain to Iran following a prison break, the government said.

Those killed were prisoners who escaped in the 1 January storming of Jaw prison or their accomplices, said the interior ministry.

Seven other people were arrested in connection with the jailbreak, which freed 10 people serving long sentences for "terrorism", it added.

The boat had been spotted at dawn off Port Khalifa, east of the capital Manama, said the ministry.

"The occupants of the boat ignored police warnings and headed north before opening fire" at the police, it said. The police returned fire and seized the boat.

According to the ministry, police found "a Kalashnikov assault rifle which was used to attack the coastguard vessels, a GPS system and satellite phone, ID cards, money and personal items."

One of those killed, aged 29, was a prisoner serving a life sentence, the ministry said.

It said the other two were aged 22 and 35, but gave no further details on them.

Bahrain state TV released video footage of the operation:

Earlier on Thursday, the ministry tweeted that "at dawn today, security forces foiled an attempt by terrorist fugitives to illegally flee by boat to Iran."

On New Year's Day, four gunmen stormed the notorious Jaw prison, south of the capital Manama, killing a policeman and freeing 10 inmates convicted of terrorism offences.

The jail houses numerous Shia prisoners held on charges of political violence.

Another two Bahrainis were arrested on Thursday, including a suspect in the deadly shooting of a policeman on 29 January in the Shia village of Bilad al-Qadim, the ministry said.

They had two AK-47 assault rifles, it added.

Bahrain has been wracked by unrest pitting its Shia-majority population against its Sunni Muslim rulers.

A 2011 uprising seeking a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister was crushed with deadly force.

The Shia opposition has since been banned and many of its leaders given long jail terms, several of them on "terrorism" charges.

Seven of the prisoners who escaped from Jaw last month were serving life sentences.

The government's crackdown drew criticism from the Obama administration, even though the United States' Fifth Fleet is based on the island, just across the Gulf from Iran.

Bahraini authorities have repeatedly accused Shia Iran of fanning the unrest in the kingdom.

Tehran says it is merely speaking in defence of the rights of its coreligionists.

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