Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 - United Arab Emirates

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 July 2017
Cite as United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 - United Arab Emirates, 19 July 2017, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Overview: The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) increased its counterterrorism prosecutions in the last year, with the Federal Supreme Court's State Security Court hearing more than three dozen separate terrorism-related cases. Most cases involved defendants accused of promoting or affiliating with UAE-designated terrorist organizations, including ISIS, al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Nusrah Front, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The court applied the UAE's strict counterterrorism laws, together with its Cyber Crime and Anti-Discrimination legislation, in the adjudication of these national security cases. International human rights non-governmental organizations and activists have claimed that the UAE uses the counterterrorism and cyber crime laws as cover to pursue cases against political dissidents and activists.

In line with previous years, the UAE government maintained a robust counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) partnership with the United States through its collaboration with U.S. law enforcement; support of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS; and counter-messaging initiatives, such as the Sawab and Hedayah Centers. It also hosted the Sunnylands Conference where key stakeholders discussed counter-messaging strategies. The UAE government remained co-chair of the Coalition Communications Working Group along with the United States and the United Kingdom (UK), and also co-chaired the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) CVE working group with the UK.

The UAE deployed forces in Yemen to counter the spread of AQAP and ISIS in Yemen at the same time as it partnered with the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism. Along with its Yemeni partners, the UAE military successfully ejected AQAP from the port city of Mukalla in April – depriving AQAP from millions in monthly income – and from the coastal towns of Balhaf and Bir Ali in December. UAE forces remained in Yemen to support local forces in counterterrorism operations.

The government's security apparatus continued monitoring suspected terrorists in the UAE, and successfully foiled terrorist attacks within its borders. UAE Customs, police, and other security agencies improved border security and worked together with financial authorities to counter terrorist finance. UAE-based think tanks and research institutions – including the Emirates Policy Center, the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, the Tabah Foundation, the Future Institute for Advanced Research and Studies, B'huth, and Hedayah – held conferences, seminars, and roundtables on countering terrorism and violent extremism.

UAE government officials worked closely with their U.S. law enforcement counterparts to increase the UAE's counterterrorism capabilities.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2016, the UAE increased prosecutions in terrorism-related cases using its existing Counterterrorism Law (Federal Law No. 7) of 2014, Cybercrime Law of 2012 (Federal Law No. 5), and Anti-Hatred and Discrimination Law of 2015 (Federal Law No. 2). The president of the UAE recently decreed a number of amendments, however, intended to impact these types of cases. For example, the government issued Federal Law No. 11 of 2016, amending Federal Law No. 3 of 1983, which specified that all cases involving the UAE's national security would be referred directly to the Federal Supreme Court. The amendment provides that the Federal Supreme Court will no longer hear national security cases in the first instance, but that the Federal Court of Appeal (located in Abu Dhabi) will have primary jurisdiction. This change in the law is significant because it now allows both the prosecution and defense to appeal verdicts to the Federal Supreme Court. Prior to the change, the Federal Supreme Court was the court of first and last instance in such cases, as verdicts could not be appealed by either party.

In October, the president of the UAE issued Federal Decree No. 7 of 2016, amending certain provisions of the penal code as provided in Federal Law No. 3 of 1987. Capital punishment or life sentences will be given to individuals who set up, run, or join any organization, group, or gang plotting to overthrow the government and seize power in the UAE. Promoting these organizations verbally, in writing, or by any other means, will carry a jail term ranging between 15 and 25 years. Furthermore, deliberate acts against a foreign country intending to harm diplomatic relations of the country or endanger its citizens, employees, money, or interests, will be punishable with a life sentence.

The State Security Directorate (SSD) in Abu Dhabi and Dubai State Security (DSS) remained primarily responsible for counterterrorism law enforcement efforts. Local, emirate-level police forces, especially Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police, were frequently the first responders in such cases and often provided technical assistance to SSD and DSS, respectively. Overall, the UAE security apparatus demonstrated capability in investigations, crisis response, and border security, and forces were trained and equipped to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents.

According to official press, the Federal Supreme Court's State Security Court heard more than three dozen terrorism-related cases in 2016, making it the most active year to date in terrorism prosecutions. The majority of prosecutions were against alleged affiliates of ISIS, AQAP, al-Nusrah Front (al-Qa'ida's affiliate in Syria), and Hizballah. Both locals and foreigners received sentences ranging from six months to death.

The most prominent terrorism trial of the year involved the Shabab al Manara group and included 41 defendants, 38 of whom were Emirati. The defendants were prosecuted for their association with terrorist groups, including ISIS and al-Qa'ida, and for planning terrorist attacks in the UAE. At the conclusion of the trial in March, the State Security Court sentenced 11 defendants (two in absentia) to life imprisonment, two defendants to 15 years imprisonment, 13 defendants to 10 years imprisonment, two defendants to five years imprisonment, six defendants to three years imprisonment, and four defendants to six months imprisonment. The Court acquitted seven defendants and ordered the deportation of four others after the completion of their sentences. Furthermore, the Court ordered the dissolution of the Shabab al Manara Group, the closure of its headquarters, the confiscation of electronic devices used in cybercrimes, weapons, ammunition, materials used in making explosives, and wireless devices, and the closure of any websites affiliated with the group.

In May, Mohammed al Habashi, the husband of Ala'a al Hashemi, who was executed for killing an American teacher on Reem Island in 2014, was sentenced to life in prison for a string of terrorist offenses, including plotting to blow up Yas Marina Circuit and a local IKEA store. Al Habashi was also found guilty of planning an assassination and making bombs.

As in previous years, the Government of the UAE worked closely with the United States, through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to improve its border security posture. Abu Dhabi Police's Criminal Investigations Division's robust law enforcement information sharing with DHS Homeland Security Investigations helped counter transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups. In an effort to meet the growing demands associated with the massive increase in international travel, Abu Dhabi Police continued to adapt its law enforcement programs to counter related transnational crimes. The UAE Federal Customs Authority (FCA) also received a mandate from the Government of the UAE to federalize the seven emirate Customs agencies. The FCA requested DHS assistance to standardize all aspects of the new Federal Customs, to include training, uniforms, equipment, non-intrusive inspection equipment, hiring, techniques, policies, etc.

UAE points of entry utilized an internal name-based watchlist system which was populated by local immigration, deportation, corrections, and security agencies to identify individuals who were prohibited from entering the country or were sought by UAE authorities; some NGOs and human rights activists claimed that political dissidents, academics, and journalists who had written critically about UAE policy were included on such lists and barred from entry. INTERPOL and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) watchlists were incorporated into the UAE's internal watchlist.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The UAE is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The UAE's financial intelligence unit, the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. The UAE also participated in the Coalition's Counter-ISIS Finance Group.

The UAE remained a regional and global financial and transportation hub, and terrorist organizations exploited it to send and receive financial support. Operational capability constraints and political considerations sometimes prevented the UAE government from immediately freezing and confiscating terrorist assets absent multilateral assistance. The UAE requires financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions to review and implement the UN Security Council ISIL (Da'esh) and al-Qa'ida sanctions regime on a continuous basis.

Except for those specifically established for financial activities, which were well-regulated, the UAE's numerous free trade zones varied in their compliance with and supervision of anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) international best practices. Exploitation by illicit actors of money transmitters, including licensed exchange houses, hawalas, and trading firms acting as money transmitters, remained of significant concern.

The UAE continued its efforts to enhance its regulatory measures to strengthen its domestic AML/CFT regime and was increasingly willing and able to implement its laws and regulations. In November, the UAE government cooperated with the U.S. Department of the Treasury to disrupt the activities of a Yemeni exchange house supporting and facilitating financing for AQAP. According to media reports in May, however, the late UN-designated Taliban leader Mullah Mansour frequently traveled to Dubai for fundraising purposes.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Countering Violent Extremism: As part of its mission to counter violent extremism in the UAE and to promote tolerance, the government created the post of Minister of State for Tolerance in February. In June, the government launched the 'National Program for Tolerance' as part of its Vision 2021 initiative. The program focuses on five pillars: strengthening the government's role as an incubator of tolerance; the role of the family in nation-building; promoting tolerance among young people and preventing fanaticism and violent extremism; enriching scientific and cultural tolerance content; and contributing to international efforts to promote tolerance.

The UAE government continued to support Hedayah, the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), which it hosts in Abu Dhabi. A co-lead of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition Communication Working Group, with the UK and the United States, the UAE established the Sawab Center as a collaborative partnership to counter ISIS's online messaging. In its second year of operation, the Sawab Center has made significant strides in marshalling an online community to counter ISIS narratives, accruing more than one million followers. The Sawab Center launched several successful campaigns in Arabic and English on its Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram platforms including a campaign highlighting the essential role of the family in countering the spread of extremism, youth making positive contributions to society, ISIS's ill treatment of women and children, returned foreign terrorist fighters and defectors, and national pride.

Prominent UAE officials and religious leaders continued to publicly criticize violent extremist ideology and highlight the dangers of violent extremism. Vice President of the UAE, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Interior Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, among others, were active on social media platforms in condemning terrorist attacks in Belgium, France, Pakistan, Turkey, the United States, and other countries.

International and Regional Cooperation: The UAE was a vocal and active participant in counterterrorism efforts at both the regional and international levels, including the GCTF. In March, the UAE joined other countries in the GCC to label Hizballah a terrorist organization. In October, police forces from the UAE participated in Arab Gulf Security 1, the first joint security exercise of the GCC, alongside forces from the other five members of the Arab regional bloc, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. In September, Minister of Interior Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol, signed an agreement on strategic cooperation in countering serious crime and terrorism. The agreement aimed to promote cooperation through the exchange of information and expertise between the UAE and the European Union's law enforcement agency to counter all types of crime. The UAE was the first country in the region to sign this agreement. The UAE also continued to play a vital role in global counterterrorism efforts through its deployment of forces in Somalia and Yemen, to counter terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab, AQAP, and ISIS in Yemen.

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