POLITICAL and human rights activists have condemned an attack on the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which was stormed by hundreds of protesters on Monday.
In a statement issued early yesterday, the BICI said its staff were verbally and physically threatened - with one employee shoved and spat at.
It added that people yelled insults, posted threatening messages on the walls and sent threats via text and email to the commission.
The statement said the crowd was directed to storm the offices, in Adliya, to report complaints by activists using social network channels and mass text messages.
National Unity Assembly (NUA) president Dr Shaikh Abdullatif Al Mahmood told the GDN yesterday that those responsible for the assault should be punished.
"Legally, what happened was a crime and an assault on the independent commission office, which has international sanctity," he said.
"Therefore, those responsible for such acts should face Bahrain's criminal law.
"What happened shows that those behind it and those calling for it are politically bankrupt and they have proven this by barging into these offices and showing that they have lost their case, which they think they are right about.
"When they carry out such acts against an international commission, it only proves this group does not acknowledge any laws, whether local or international.
"They started with speaking against the commission and its president and now they have reached the ultimate level of not respecting the laws and attacking the offices.
"They have only exposed their true colours to the international community."
Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS) president Faisal Fulad said he believed foreign influence could be behind the assault.
"We don't believe that the people responsible were acting alone, as we have seen this on Twitter and Facebook and other channels from Lebanon and Iran," he said.
"They started to generate distrust in people, which led to these attacks and we feel that this event is an act of the loser.
"Violence is not the answer and we denounce these acts of sabotage on the commission."
He said it was important to allow the BICI to be left to continue its investigations in a professional and transparent manner.
"The commission started its work transparently and professionally and we should give them time to record the violence that happened on both sides," he said.
"I feel for the staff who were attacked as this is not the true image of Bahrain, we treat visitors with respect and welcome them - not assault them."
That opinion was echoed by Bahrain Human Rights Society secretary-general Dr Abdulla Al Derazi, who said the commission was working hard on the investigation.
He also reiterated earlier statements made by commission chairman Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, who stated that people must make prior appointments before showing up at the BICI office.
"We apologise for what happened at the BICI offices as it does not reflect the nature of the people of Bahrain," he said.
"As a society we appreciate the effort of the BICI and its members.
"They are really working hard to document so many cases every day, with such patience and dedication."
However, he also called on the media to remain impartial about the investigation - saying accuracy was key.
"Its accuracy is very important and it should not distort information directed towards its own political agenda," he said.
He also said he believed the BICI's final report would be objective and credible, despite claims from some in the opposition that the independent probe was too close to the government.
The attack on the BICI followed what the commission described as "misleading headlines", which claimed it had already reached conclusions about the unrest.
It added it had not reached any conclusions since its investigation was ongoing and stressed the BICI would not be used as a political tool.
Opposition activists have previously tried to discredit the commission after it publicly acknowledged the co-operation of Bahraini authorities, prompting Prof Bassiouni to issue a statement as recently as last Thursday denying it was "prejudging the outcome of the inquiry".
Meanwhile, yesterday's statement by the BICI denied news reports suggesting it had already determined that the government did not commit crimes against humanity.
The BICI has now closed its office until further notice, but is continuing to accept statements submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and will provide information on its website at www.bici.org.bh.
It has also stopped conducting interviews with the media.
l Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowment Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa yesterday condemned the attack on BICI offices.
He deplored the incident, saying it doesn't reflect Bahrain's general attitude.
He thanked the commission, pledging to bring violators to justice.