CAIRO -- Five bombs exploded in the capital of Bahrain on Monday, killing two foreign workers and critically injuring a third, in a sharp intensification of the violence that has simmered in the island nation since the beginning of a pro-democracy uprising 21 months ago.
The government said the bombs, which detonated in three districts in the capital, Manama, were improvised explosive devices. One victim was killed after kicking a bomb, causing it to explode, officials said. Another was injured after picking up one of the devices, a hospital employee said on state television.
Bahraini officials called the bombings a terrorist attack and said the police had found and detonated a sixth bomb. Bahrain's chief of public security, Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Hassan, said several suspects had been identified, but he did not provide their names.
The government has frequently invoked terrorism when describing its opponents, or has cast them as accomplices in a foreign plot. It has cited the use of incendiary devices like Molotov cocktails by some protesters as a reason for the forceful response by the riot police. Since February 2011, protesters have demanded that the Sunni monarchy grant greater political freedom and end discrimination against the Shiite majority in the Persian Gulf nation, which is host to the main regional base for the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet.
The bombings on Monday, apparently aimed at civilians, seemed to open a dangerous new phase in the conflict. Some of the government's opponents immediately raised questions about the timing, a few days after the monarchy drew international condemnation for banning protests. Human rights advocates called the decree part of an escalating crackdown on dissent.
On Friday, the authorities arrested Said Yousif al-Muhafdah, a Bahraini human right activist who monitored protests. His lawyer said Mr. Muhafdah, who is charged with illegal gatherings and unauthorized protests, could face up to two years in prison.
"It all seems to come in a very crucial time," said Mohamed Hasan, an activist and a blogger, noting that no one had taken responsibility for the bombings on Monday and that opposition groups had condemned them. "The government will use it as a way to attack the demands of the opposition."
The first bomb exploded around 4:30 a.m., and the last device damaged several cars around 9:24 a.m., General Hassan said. Officials did not identify the two victims who died, saying only that they were Asian and that one of the men was 27. State television showed their bodies, one with a large wound below his neck and the other lying in a garage, next to a damaged car.
The injured victim, a street cleaner, was photographed in his hospital bed, waving bandaged hands. A hospital employee said he is Indian and had picked up the bomb as he started work.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.