United Arab Emirates arrests 'al-Qaeda terror suspects'

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Seven members of an alleged al-Qaeda cell have been arrested over plans to attack targets in the United Arab Emirates, officials tell state media.

The group was planning actions which compromised the Gulf nation's security, according to state news agency WAM.

An unidentified source told the agency the cell recruited people, promoted al-Qaeda and provided finances and logistical support to the organisation.

All seven members are believed to be Arab nationals.

Analysis

The claim that this is a local al-Qaeda cell needs to be treated with caution. The UAE has a track record of rounding up dissidents and branding them as terrorists. Currently 94 people are on trial for allegedly plotting the overthrow of the government. Most are members of a conservative religious society al-Islah that observers say is non-violent. Their only crime may be criticising the UAE rulers. And despite the ongoing allegations that would suggest that the UAE is under constant threat, Dubai and other major cities have been mercifully free of terror attacks. The same cannot be said for neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Last December, the UAE arrested members of what it called a terror cell which it said was planning to attack targets in the Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Another 94 people, said to be members of an Islamist organisation, are on trial in the UAE charged with plotting to overthrow the government.

The detainees, all Emiratis, include prominent human rights lawyers as well as judges, teachers and student leaders.

An Emirati human rights activist who asked not to be named told the BBC that "it was highly unlikely" al-Qaeda was operating in the UAE.

"I don't put any credibility in what state security says. These kinds of arrests are a pretext for repression."

The UAE is a major oil exporter and key Western ally in the region, comprising seven sheikhdoms run by ruling families.

Up to 80% of its residents are expatriates, lured by work in construction or the lucrative financial sector.

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