ABU DHABI Islamists detained in the United Arab Emirates have confessed to setting up a secret organization with an armed force whose aim was to take power and establish an Islamic state, local media reported on Thursday.
The detainees, who number around 60, were all members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization, the privately owned al- Khaleej newspaper reported. Two other newspapers, including the state-owned al-Bayan, ran similar reports. None gave named sources.
A UAE official declined to comment on the reports, saying the matter was subject to legal proceedings.
The UAE, a significant oil exporter and Middle East business hub, tolerates no organized political opposition.
Concerned about possible spillover from the Arab Spring, it has acted fast to isolate dissidents, stripping seven Islamists of their citizenship last year on national security grounds.
The UAE state prosecutor has charged those detained with founding an organization that violates state security, having links to foreign organizations and insulting the political leadership, al-Khaleej reported. Their case will be referred to the relevant court soon, it said.
"Members of the organization admitted that they exploited the events of the Arab Spring and that their strategic aim was to seize power and establish a religious state or caliphate," the newspaper said.
"In the course of the investigations it became clear that the organizational structure of the organization comprised committees and branch offices in every emirate, as well as a consultative council, an executive office and a military wing," the newspaper reported.
The group was coordinating with Brotherhood organizations in three other Gulf Arab countries, the newspaper said. It had recently received 10 million dirhams ($3.67 million) from a counterpart in another Gulf Arab country "because the local organization was going through difficult times."
Al-Bayan said the group's military wing had existed since 1988 and had trained young recruits and sought to enlist relatives of members of the armed forces.
Relatives rejected the charges, saying they were aimed at whipping up public opposition to the detainees to paint them as criminals. They said that defense lawyers have not been in contact with them on the charges.
"These charges are not true, there is no military wing, no foreign loyalty and no organization at all," one relative told Reuters.
They sources denied rumors that the detainees did not have legal representation and that they have eight defense lawyers, the newspaper said.
"The sources categorically denied recent rumors over claims of torture of the detainees," the article said.
The charges are punishable by fines and prison sentences.
Islamists' demands in the UAE include more civil rights and greater power for the Federal National Council, a quasi-parliamentary body that advises the government but has no legislative power.
(Reporting By Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Angus MacSwan)