Hackers seemingly allied with Shia militants briefly took over the Twitter account of Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa on Saturday (3 June), the country's foreign ministry and local media reported. Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign affairs said the cyberattack was carried out by a "terrorist group that attributed false tweets to the minister" and vowed to hold the perpetrators behind "this despicable act" accountable.
The hackers posted a slew of disturbing images and threats against the royal family including one tweet that read: "We are going to paint the floor with your blood."
Some of the messages posted on the foreign minister's compromised account featured the logo of the Saraya Al Mokhtar, a Shia militant group that has claimed multiple attacks against security forces in Bahrain and has a strong online presence.
Bahrain's foreign ministry confirmed the hack in a message posted on its own Twitter account saying: "The Account of H.E. Minister of Foreign Affairs has been hacked. Kindly be aware,"
The attackers reportedly seized control of the account at around 5.30am local time and posted numerous statements in support of the Shia population in Saudi Arabia for about four hours. Some of the posted videos and images showed slain protesters in Bahrain, destroyed mosques and dead civilians in the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen.
One message called for the fall of the Bahrain monarchy while another tweet read: "We will soon reap the skulls of you who danced on the blood of our men in Bahrain, Qatif and Yemen."
One tweet included a video that praised the late Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the prominent Shia cleric who was a staunch and vocal supporter of pro-democracy protests, using the Arabic hashtag "The Islamic Resistance in Bahrain." Al-Nimr's execution by Saudi Arabia in January 2016 drew regional and international condemnation.
The hackers also retweeted posts from another account apparently linked to Numour al-Huriya (Tigers of Libery), another Shia militant group. They also posted a photo of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa with the words "Down with Hamad" on it.
The tiny but strategic country of Bahrain hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base.
The cyberattack comes amid simmering tensions in the small Shiite-majority nation ruled by a Sunni monarchy after a police raid in a prominent Shia cleric's hometown last week saw five people killed and 286 people arrested.
The hack also comes shortly after Qatar's official news agency was allegedly hacked by an unknown entity and carried a "false statement" attributed to the country's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Although Qatar immediately denied the comments attributed to the ruling emir, the purported fake news report unearthed real tensions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours.
Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain blocked access to a number of news websites including Al Jazeera and Huffington Post Arabic following the alleged hack.