On June 29, a court in Dubai found two ethnic Uyghurs guilty of plotting to attack a massive shopping mall made up of 400 shops selling Chinese-made goods (The National [Abu Dhabi], June 30). This attempted attack was not only the first terrorist plot to be disrupted in Dubai, but also the first time that a cell tied to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has taken aim at a Chinese target outside China and Central Asia. In what appears to have been intended as a largely symbolic attack, the Uyghurs’ target was not the mall itself, but a statue outside the mall of a dragon wrapped around a large globe.
According to court documents, key plotter Mayma Ytiming Shalmo, 35, was first recruited by ETIM in Mecca in 2006.  While in Saudi Arabia, possibly on Hajj, Shalmo met the deputy leader of ETIM, with whom he discussed the “premise of jihad in China.” Having agreed that he was interested in doing something about the Uyghurs’ plight, Shalmo traveled with the deputy leader to Pakistan’s Waziristan region and was trained in weapons and how to manufacture explosives from easily available materials. He was then introduced to ETIM’s electronics expert, who taught him how to make detonators. Shalmo claims to have spent a year at the mujahideen camps.
After his year of training, Shalmo was given orders from the head of ETIM, relayed through the deputy, to target the Dragon Mart mall in Dubai. He flew from Islamabad to Dubai on July 28, 2007 and spent autumn in Dubai, twice visiting the mall on what were presumed to be scouting missions. He then left the country and went back to Saudi Arabia before re-entering the UAE on December 22, 2007 by bus. At this point, his co-conspirator, Wimiyar Ging Kimili, 31, also an ethnic Uyghur, entered the picture, giving Shalmo a place to live upon his return to Dubai. At some point during this period, the men entered into discussions about China and jihad, and Kimili agreed to help Shalmo in his operation.
From a practical perspective, Kimili’s assistance appears to have been essential. Shalmo apparently spoke neither Arabic nor English, and thus would have been completely reliant on Kimili to go with him to purchase the necessary materials from pharmacies and paint supply shops. When police captured the men, they had in their possession alcohol, potassium permanganate, aluminum, chloride acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, sulfur, acetone and other “tools to be used in the preparation of explosives.”
It is unclear exactly when or why the local police started watching the men. According to one report, they were first alerted by the local Chinese Embassy, which was monitoring the men due to their ethnicity. The same report, however, also highlights that in court documents released in January, the men were first noticed after they made a 50,000 Dirham ($13,600) wire transfer to China, which was then forwarded to Saudi Arabia (The National, June 30). The implication is that this was funding for the attack, though the purpose of these transfers remains unclear, as is who first noticed the money movement. In court documents released at the end of the trial, Kimili describes Shalmo receipt of $10,000 via a hawala network from Turkey to fund the plot.
The same court documents released at the conclusion of the trial highlight the fact that local security services were first alerted to the men in early June 2008 after receiving information that Shalmo was a known ETIM member who was planning an operation in the UAE. They appear to have wasted little time in obtaining a court order to search his property, and on June 28, 2008 they raided his house in al-Ain, discovering the chemicals and other equipment. During his interrogation, Shalmo admitted Kimili’s role in the plot and his help in obtaining the bomb making materials. On July 16, 2008, police arrested Kimili.
Kimili claimed during the trial that, fearing for his family, he had a change of heart about the attack and told Shalmo of his concerns. At this point, he claimed that Shalmo “told him he wanted the chemicals only to use them for black magic” (The National, July 9).
Casting a shadow over the case was the allegation that the men’s initial confessions had been coerced “through fear,” though the court ultimately dismissed this claim, saying fear alone does not constitute coercion. Furthermore, the trial was delayed while the courts sought out relevant interpreters – in the end translations had to be made first from Arabic into Mandarin and then into Uyghur (and vice versa). Translators were apparently provided by the Chinese Embassy, which also sent representatives to attend the duration of the trial (The National, June 30).
The men were ultimately given sentences of ten years each, with the court noting the attack was ultimately aimed at the UAE, as the mall is government owned. The death penalty, the usual tariff for terrorism charges in Dubai, was dismissed by the court since the plot was still in its “preliminary stages” (The National, June 30). However, upon release both men are to be deported, presumably to China, where they will likely face further punishment as admitted members of ETIM.
1. Unless otherwise indicated, the information is based on court documents released by the courts at the conclusion of the trial. The ETIM leader and deputy leader went unnamed in those documents.