ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Seven men arrested last year on suspicion of planning attacks on the United Arab Emirates were jailed on Monday for belonging to an al Qaeda network and aiding its affiliate in Syria.
The Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi acquitted two others on trial in the same case, the official news agency WAM said, adding that they were Arabs rather than Emirati citizens.
The UAE, an important military and business partner of the West, said at the time of the arrests in April 2013 that the men were Arab nationals who had been helping al Qaeda with recruitment, financing and logistical support.
The nine men on trial were accused of supporting al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate fighting Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria. Other charges included forming an al Qaeda cell in the UAE while two of the defendants were accused of setting up websites to spread al Qaeda’s ideology, WAM said.
Six were jailed for seven years, one was given life.
Two of the defendants sentenced to seven years were also fined 1 million UAE dirhams ($272,300). All of them will be deported from the country once their sentences are served.
The sentences were handed down in absentia to one of the defendants, WAM said. Local media said the man jailed for life was the one not present at the trial.
The Gulf country, a federation of seven emirates including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has been spared an attack by al Qaeda and other militants. Some analysts say the groups find it too useful as a communications and financial hub.
One of the region’s most politically stable nations, largely thanks to its oil wealth and cradle-to-grave welfare system, the UAE has seen none of the violent turmoil that has shaken other parts of the Middle East and North Africa in the past years.
Still, some of the emirates have seen a rise in Islamist sentiment, and the federal government has cracked down on alleged sympathizers of Islamist groups such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, now banned by Cairo.
In January, 30 Emiratis and Egyptians were convicted of setting up an illegal branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced to up to five years in jail. The Brotherhood says it only engages in peaceful protests.
In December 2012, the UAE also said it had arrested a cell of Emirati and Saudi Arabian members of a “deviant group” that was planning to carry out militant attacks in both countries and other states. The term “deviant group” is often used by authorities in Saudi Arabia to describe al Qaeda members.
Reporting by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Angus McDowall and Alison Williams