Documents from the Harmony Database recently declassified by the U.S. military includes a threat made by al-Qaeda to the United Arab Emirates, specifically Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The text is significant since it places the series of warnings against the UAE during the last year in a longer historical context, potentially indicating the level of interest shown by the al-Qaeda movement in the Gulf state, which is closely allied to the U.S. in the war on terrorism. The letter, dated May 26, 2002, warned the Emirates’ authorities at the time that continued cooperation with the U.S. in extraditing mujahideen will “bring the country into an arena of conflict, in which it will not be able to endure or escape from its consequences.” It argued that the state “knows full well that we have penetrated your security, surveillance and banking apparatus, along with others which it is not [at present] relevant to mention.” The warning pointed out that the state was “wide open to us” with a population “the most fertile and conducive to the task and capable of exploding” and singled out the weakness of its economic dependence on “impudent tourism” (Combating Terrorism Center, https://www.ctc.usma.edu).
The UAE has received repeated warnings of this kind. The Kalimat al-Haqq website, located at https://www.rightword.net, in a context that appears to suggest the period prior to the campaign to oust Saddam, noted that “the most important American bases are in the Gulf: so ‘Prepare for them each ambush’ [Quran, IX, 5].” It noted that in the UAE there were “over 1,000 American soldiers…as well as launch platforms for the U-2 surveillance aircraft and fuel supply planes for aircraft maintaining the no-fly zone in southern Iraq.”
Since then, threats have been renewed. While the May 2002 letter indicated that the mujahideen had no immediate interest in the country, being otherwise engaged, it insisted that “if you force us to, we are prepared to put off our [other] program for a short period in order to turn our attention to you.” A similar tone was adopted in a March 19, 2005 posting entitled “An Urgent Letter to the Rulers of the Emirates” that circulated on the militant forums al-Ma’sada (now defunct), al-Tajdeed (https://www.tajdeed.net) and al-Qal’a (now defunct). It listed the conduct of its government in opening up the country to Jews and Christians, voluntarily adhering to the UN and training and equipping the Iraqi police force was leaving “no room for doubt that the punishment of God will befall your country.”
The warning of a new jihadist front in the UAE was accompanied by an illustration of the USS Kitty Hawk being re-provisioned at Jebel Ali port, and ended with an ultimatum that the government had 10 days in which to carry out its instructions, “otherwise they will be considered to be in a state of apostasy” (Terrorism Focus, March 31, 2005). Four months later the threats were re-iterated with a warning from a group calling itself the “al-Qaeda Organization in the Emirates and Oman.” It called for the dismantling of all U.S. military installations within 10 days, failing which the UAE rulers would “endure the first of the mujahideen in your faces” (Terrorism Focus, March 31, 2005).
The position of the UAE in al-Qaeda’s program is difficult to gauge. The state has extradited a number of high-profile jihadi figures, each time courting the risk of retaliatory action, but other than the name of individual Emiratis appearing on the roster of mujahideen, there has been no strong evidence of its population—a community of highly diverse origins—being “the most fertile and conducive to the task and capable of exploding.” By default, analysts ascribe the UAE as being spared targeting due to their usefulness for the mujahideen as a communications and financial hub. While the UAE has made high profile efforts to tighten up regulation of its financial sector, the number of prosecutions to date remains limited, and few financial analysts would venture to state that jihadi funding no longer finds a route through Emirati banks. As to whether the broader interests of jihad will continue to protect the small Gulf state from attack, the example of London last July—where the city’s vaunted refuge for radical Islamic dissidents offered little protection—is not encouraging.