Radical Islamists Target the UAE

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 1

The ruling Gulf monarchies are frequent targets of radical Islamist militant discourse on Arabic-language website discussion forums, with the Saudi royal family drawing the most ire. Islamist militants view the Gulf monarchies as heretical and apostate regimes akin to other regional governments considered illegitimate, tyrannical and corrupt U.S. clients, namely Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Pakistan, among others. As a center of business, tourism and media, the oil- and gas-rich federation of seven sheikhdoms that comprise the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been spared the kinds of direct threats and violence experienced by its neighbors at the hands of Islamist militants. There are, however, indications that extremists are setting their sights on the UAE.

In a statement posted on the Tajdeed forum (https://www.tajdeed.org.uk) on January 30, entitled “Does the United Arab Emirates Appear on the List of Targets of Jihad,” one forum participant calls the UAE a “center of colonialism in every sense of the word” that was established to serve the interests of “Zionism and Crusaders.” He points out that Dubai is home to churches and adherents of Dawoodi Bohra Islam, a sect of Ismaili Shiite Islam (https://www.dubaijamaat.org). The author laments that Ajman, Sharjah and Dubai are home to what are described pejoratively as “Shiite temples,” as opposed to mosques, and that the country is ruled by an “autocratic regime” that maintains “friendly relations with the Zionist entity, Europeans and Americans” and is “hostile to the Messenger of God [Prophet Muhammad].” He also criticizes the UAE’s role as a base for U.S. military operations in the Middle East. The UAE’s Port of Jebel Ali, the largest man-made port in the world located just outside of Dubai, serves as a vital logistics and transport hub for U.S. military operations in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

The statement mentions that the UAE would be wrong to “believe that it is out of the firing range of the mujahideen” and that the “absence of jihadi operations [against UAE territory] was not due to the capabilities of the security apparatus in defending the interests of colonialism and al-Nahyan and al-Maktoum [UAE president and vice president]…but because the leaders of the mujahideen have not decided to open a battle front there.” The author adds: “perhaps the onset of the confrontations will be in the form of a series of simple operations that will begin shortly.”

The commentary continues with a scathing account of the UAE as a bastion of corruption, usury, moral depravity and decadence, and Freemasonry, where the interests of foreigners outweigh those of Muslims: “In the UAE’s Constitution and legislative laws, every enemy of Islam and Muslims is allowed to conduct themselves freely while Muslims do not have the right to express themselves freely and to join their mujahideen brothers.” In reference to U.S. support for the UAE and the Gulf monarchies, another contributor added on February 4: “the impending defeat of the Americans in Iraq will transform the map completely and give rise to the Islamic state.”

Despite the UAE’s longstanding military and economic relationship with the United States, some banks and institutions based in the UAE along with members of the royal family have been linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The UAE also maintained diplomatic relations with the Taliban until shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Given the rise in regional tensions and opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the targeting of the UAE by militants seems to represent a logical expansion of the strategy employed by radical Islamists to attack incumbent regimes closely aligned with the United States.