By Rania El Gamal
DUBAI Dec 26 Security forces in the United Arab
Emirates have arrested a cell of UAE and Saudi Arabian citizens
which was planning to carry out militant attacks in both
countries and other states, the official news agency WAM said on
The U.S.-allied UAE, a federation of seven emirates and a
major oil exporter that has supported Western counter-terrorism
efforts in the region, has been spared any attack by al Qaeda
and other insurgency groups.
But some of its emirates have seen a rise in Islamist
sentiment in recent years, and Dubai, a business and tourism hub
and cosmopolitan city that attracts many Westerners, could make
an attractive target for Islamist militants, analysts say.
Those arrested had acquired materials and equipment for use
in what WAM called terrorist operations.
"The security authorities in the UAE, in coordination with
the related security parties in Saudi Arabia, announced the
arrest of an organised cell from the deviant group that was
planning to carry out actions against national security of both
countries and some brotherly states," WAM said without
The phrase "the deviant group" is often used by authorities
in Saudi Arabia to describe al Qaeda members.
Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdullah told Reuters
he believed it was the first time the UAE had announced a
suspected attack plot of regional significance.
It "looks like it is a big one, mainly because it includes
Emirati citizens and is not confined to the UAE but also has a
In August, Saudi authorities arrested a group of suspected
al Qaeda-linked militants - mostly Yemeni nationals - in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has arrested thousands of suspected militants
since the 2003-2006 attacks on residential compounds for foreign
workers and on Saudi government facilities in which were dozens
of people were killed.
The United States has poured aid into Yemen to stem the
threat of attacks from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
and to try to prevent any spillover of violence into Saudi
Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.
In 2010, AQAP, a merger of al Qaeda's Yemeni and Saudi
branches, said it was behind a plot to send two parcel bombs to
the United States. The bombs were intercepted in Britain and
The UAE has escaped the upheaval that has shaken the Arab
world but moved swiftly to stem any sign of political dissent by
detaining more than 60 local Islamists this year over alleged
threats to state security and links to a foreign group.
Those detainees, who belong to an Islamist group called
al-Islah, have confessed to setting up a secret organisation
with an armed force whose aim was to take power and establish an
Islamic state, local media reported in September. Islah denied
Many of the detained Islamists come from the more
religiously conservative northern emirates such as Sharjah and
Ras al-Khaimah, which produced one of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
In May 2002, al Qaeda militants sent a letter to UAE
authorities saying continued UAE cooperation with Washington in
arresting what it called holy warriors would "bring the country
into an arena of conflict," according to al Qaeda documents
captured by the U.S. military and published by the Combating
Terrorism Center at the U.S. military academy at West point.