UAE interrogates Islamist-linked women report

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Prosecutors in the United Arab Emirates have begun interrogating women linked to a group of Islamists held for allegedly plotting to seize power in the Gulf state, news agency WAM said on Wednesday.

“The public prosecution has begun interrogating leading female elements in the women’s organization” linked to the Islamist group, the state news agency quoted UAE attorney general Salem Kobaish as saying.

Kobaish did not specify the number of women being interrogated nor whether they could face detention for their links to the Islamist group, which he accused of “creating and managing a network aimed at seizing power in the country,” reported AFP.

This is not the first time a suspected Islamist militant cell has been detained in the United Arab Emirates.

Individuals arrested in the UAE on Dec. 26 had links to al-Qaeda, including its prominent Yemen-based wing, Dubai’s police chief, Dahi Khalfan, said in an interview published by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday.

The group had planned bomb attacks on targets in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other states in the region, rather than setting out to assassinate individuals, Khalfan added.

The Dubai police chief said he was concerned that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members were making their way to the Gulf, but said Saudi anti-terrorism efforts had reduced al-Qaeda’s threat to the region, reported Reuters.

The UAE has so far escaped attack by al-Qaeda or 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.

Brotherhood ‘menace’

AQAP, formed in 2009 by a merger of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni and Saudi branches, remains a threat, although its attempts to pull off a spectacular attack abroad have so far been thwarted, reported Reuters.

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.

A Yemeni official said AQAP had individual sponsors in the Gulf, adding that UAE authorities had not officially contacted Sanaa about possible links between the UAE cell and al-Qaeda.

“We know that al-Qaeda gets financial support from some individuals in the region and that members of al-Qaeda come from some neighboring countries to fight alongside the group in Yemen,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

Washington has backed a political transition in Yemen and stepped up drone strikes on suspected militants there to try to curb AQAP’s influence and prevent a spillover of violence into U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.

Khalfan said al-Qaeda was not the UAE’s only security threat, citing dangers from Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, swept to power in Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

He said the menace from Iran and the Brotherhood - which have significant ideological differences - was 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.”