DUBAI (Reuters) - A suspected militant cell detained in the United Arab Emirates had links to al Qaeda, Dubai’s police chief has said, including the Yemen-based wing that is widely regarded as one of the its most effective affiliates.
Dahi Khalfan also said the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and Shi‘ite Iran were among the main security threats to Gulf Arab states because they wanted to export revolution to the region.
The United Arab Emirates, a major oil producer that has supported Western counter-terrorism efforts in the region, announced the arrest of the UAE cell on December 26 in a joint operation with Saudi Arabia.
“They are adherents of al Qaeda and its misguided doctrine,” Khalfan said in an interview with Saudi-owned Asharq Al Awsat newspaper published on Wednesday.
“Some of the (cell) members are affiliated with al Qaeda in Yemen,” said Khalfan, referring to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The group planned bomb attacks against targets in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other states in the region rather than targeting individuals for assassination, he added.
The Dubai police chief said he was concerned that AQAP members were making their way to the Gulf but said Saudi anti-terrorism efforts had reduced al Qaeda’s threat to the Gulf.
The UAE has so far escaped attack by al Qaeda and other insurgent groups, but some of the seven emirates in the federation have seen a rise in Islamist sentiment in recent years. Security analysts say Dubai, a cosmopolitan business and tourism hub, could make an attractive target for militants.
AQAP, formed in 2009 a merger of al Qaeda’s Yemeni and Saudi branches, remains a potent threat. In 2010, it claimed responsibility for two sophisticated parcel bombs sent to the United States. The bombs were intercepted in Britain and Dubai before they could explode.
In August, Saudi authorities arrested a group of suspected al Qaeda-linked militants - mostly Yemeni nationals - in the capital Riyadh, suggesting the group remained highly active.
Washington has backed a political transition in Yemen and stepped up drone strikes on suspected militants there to try to curb the group’s influence and prevent a spillover of violence into U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.
But Khalfan said al Qaeda was not the only security threat concerning the UAE. The Muslim Brotherhood - swept to power in Egypt as a result of the Arab Spring - and Iran were “both a menace to the region.”
“I think Iran and the (Muslim) Brothers’ menace is similar. They both want to export the revolution,” he said. “What the Muslim Brothers are aiming for at the moment is to shred and denigrate the reputation of the Gulf rulers.”
Last July, Khalfan warned of an international plot to overthrow the governments of Gulf Arab countries, saying the region needs to be prepared to counter any threat from Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers as well as Syria and Iran.
The UAE has escaped the upheaval that has shaken the Arab world but moved swiftly to stem any sign of political dissent by detaining more than 60 local Islamists this year over alleged threats to state security and links to a foreign group.
Editing by Jon Boyle