An al-Qaeda Threat in the United Arab Emirates?

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 25

Jihadi internet forums have picked up on recent British and American warnings about possible al-Qaeda terror attacks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One forum post, entitled “Is al-Qaeda overlooking the United Arab Emirates,” dismissed the suggestion that al-Qaeda is overlooking the UAE because al-Qaeda leaders use the country to transit to other destinations and as a resting place, describing it as a fable (, June 20). The posting came in response to other posts speculating on an approaching end to what was described as a furtive understanding between al-Qaeda and the UAE (, June 18). The exchange of posts followed a UK Foreign Office warning to travelers based on intelligence collected by MI6. The British Embassy in the UAE cautioned: “Attacks could be indiscriminate and could happen at any time, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers such as residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests” (AFP, June 16). Similar warnings were later repeated by U.S. authorities (Financial Times, June 16; Guardian, June 16; MSNBC, June 17).

Prompted by the UK-U.S. warning, posts such as one entitled “Is the Honeymoon between Bin Laden and UAE Shaykhs over?” discussed reasons behind the possible change in al-Qaeda’s stand toward the UAE. Forum contributor “Uqqu” stressed that what has kept al-Qaeda from targeting the UAE is an understanding whereby al-Qaeda turns a blind eye on the UAE shaykhs’ un-Islamic practices (having “turned the country into a whorehouse”), in return for the UAE allocating funds for al-Qaeda’s use. The post also claims that the UAE broke this agreement by extraditing 30 Egyptian Islamists to Egypt and arresting UAE citizens the government claims were involved in a plot to highjack a plane and fly it into Dubai’s Burj al-Arab, the world’s tallest hotel. According to this forum participant, fatwas have also been issued by pro-al-Qaeda shaykhs prohibiting any dealings with the ruling al-Nahyan (Abu Dhabi) and al-Maktoum (Dubai) families.

Other Islamists rejected the idea that al-Qaeda had a secret understanding with the UAE and gave other reasons for al-Qaeda not attacking the UAE (, June 20). A forum participant from Iraq, nicknamed “Istikhbarat dolat al-Islam,” argued that al-Qaeda members do not carry passports with al-Qaeda insignia on them, meaning al-Qaeda members secretly enter UAE without the consent of the authorities. According to this post, another reason al-Qaeda has not struck the UAE is the lack of support among the small population of the Emirates for al-Qaeda because UAE Islamist groups are either weak or ideologically in contrast with the Salafi-Jihadi doctrine followed by al-Qaeda. UAE Salafi groups are adherents of the theoretical rather than militant aspects of Salafism, making it very difficult for al-Qaeda to recruit locals to perpetrate terror attacks.

Al-Islam cites a number of reasons for al-Qaeda’s reevaluation of its relationship with the UAE, including the continuing extradition of foreign Islamists either in transit or living in the UAE. He also claims the UAE is harming Arab economies by allowing the smuggling of “Arab gold” and other wealth through its territories to the West. He also mentions the alleged existence of fatwas declaring the rulers of the UAE to be apostates who should be killed for violating the shari’a (Islamic law) and supporting non-Muslims against Muslims.

Commenting on al-Islam’s posting, another forum participant from Iraq accused the UAE of harming Iraqis by helping Americans to open military bases in the UAE and allowing a pro-Shiite satellite T.V. station, al-Faeeha, to broadcast from the UAE. Therefore, according to the Salafi principal of al-wala’ wa al-bara’ (Loyalty [to Islam] and Disavowal [to its Enemies]), the UAE’s rulers should be overthrown. A further participant, nicknamed Said al-Fawaris, posted a warning to the UAE’s rulers entitled “Return to Islam and you will be safe,” criticizing the UAE’s democratic lifestyle and free market policies, which are deemed un-Islamic from a Salafi-Jihadist perspective (, June 7).

The small population and size of the UAE together with the latest techniques implemented by its security forces—with significant help from friendly Western countries—has, so far, proven very effective in tracking down terrorists passing through the county. Al-Qaeda’s only chance to attack the UAE would be through penetrating the Western interests in the country, such as foreign embassies and businesses, or through attempts to penetrate the local security services.