UPDATE 3-UAE says arrests cell planning attacks

DUBAI, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Security forces in the United Arab

Emirates have arrested a cell of UAE and Saudi Arabian citizens

which was planning to carry out militant attacks in both

countries and other states, the official news agency WAM said on

Wednesday.

The U.S.-allied UAE, a federation of seven emirates and a

major oil exporter that has supported Western counter-terrorism

efforts in the region, has been spared any attack by al Qaeda

and other insurgency groups.

But some of its emirates have seen a rise in Islamist

sentiment in recent years, and Dubai, a business and tourism hub

and cosmopolitan city that attracts many Westerners, could make

an attractive target for Islamist militants, analysts say.

Those arrested had acquired materials and equipment for use

in what WAM called terrorist operations.

"The security authorities in the UAE, in coordination with

the related security parties in Saudi Arabia, announced the

arrest of an organised cell from the deviant group that was

planning to carry out actions against national security of both

countries and some brotherly states," WAM said without

elaborating.

The phrase "the deviant group" is often used by authorities

in Saudi Arabia to describe al Qaeda members.

Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdullah told Reuters

he believed it was the first time the UAE had announced a

suspected attack plot of regional significance.

It "looks like it is a big one, mainly because it includes

Emirati citizens and is not confined to the UAE but also has a

regional dimension."

In August, Saudi authorities arrested a group of suspected

al Qaeda-linked militants - mostly Yemeni nationals - in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has arrested thousands of suspected militants

since the 2003-2006 attacks on residential compounds for foreign

workers and on Saudi government facilities in which were dozens

of people were killed.

The United States has poured aid into Yemen to stem the

threat of attacks from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

and to try to prevent any spillover of violence into Saudi

Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.

In 2010, AQAP, a merger of al Qaeda's Yemeni and Saudi

branches, said it was behind a plot to send two parcel bombs to

the United States. The bombs were intercepted in Britain and

Dubai.

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.

Those detainees, who belong to an Islamist group called

al-Islah, have confessed to setting up a secret organisation

with an armed force whose aim was to take power and establish an

Islamic state, local media reported in September. Islah denied

the accusations.

Many of the detained Islamists come from the more

religiously conservative northern emirates such as Sharjah and

Ras al-Khaimah, which produced one of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

In May 2002, al Qaeda militants sent a letter to UAE

authorities saying continued UAE cooperation with Washington in

arresting what it called holy warriors would "bring the country

into an arena of conflict," according to al Qaeda documents

captured by the U.S. military and published by the Combating

Terrorism Center at the U.S. military academy at West point.

Most Popular in Middle East