DUBAI Bahrain said on Thursday its forces had killed three men and captured seven during a gun battle at sea as they tried to flee to Iran, linking most of the men to a deadly prison break last month.
Black clad commandos in masks traded gunfire with the men as they sped away from the island kingdom on a small boat, according to footage broadcast at a police press conference.
Two men were wounded among the seven suspects captured, who police chief Tariq al-Hassan said were involved in an array of militant activities including bomb-making and killing policemen.
Security forces spotted the boat leaving a Bahraini port but it did not comply with police orders to stop, Hassan said.
"The target began to shoot heavily, to which we responded directly and took control of the boat," Hassan told reporters.
"The defendants were in contact with terrorist elements in Iran, and terrorist elements awaiting them outside Bahrain's territorial waters were waiting to convey them to Iran."
Among the fugitives, Hassan added, were several who carried out an attack on Bahrain's Jaw prison in January in which a policeman was killed and several prisoners escaped.
Thousands of mainly Shi'ite Muslim Bahrainis are in jail on charges ranging from participating in anti-government protests to armed attacks on security forces in the Western-allied Gulf kingdom, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based.
Bahrain earlier this month executed three men convicted in the death of three policemen, including an Emirati officer, in a 2014 bomb attack. Bahrain accuses Iran of fanning unrest and supporting militants involved in armed attacks in the island kingdom. Iran denies any involvement.
(Reporting by Mostafa Hashem and Mohammed El Sharif, writing by Noah Browning, Editing by William Maclean and Michael Perry)