Overview: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) government continued to prosecute numerous individuals for terrorism-related offenses in 2018. In line with previous years, the UAE government continued its collaboration with U.S. law enforcement on counterterrorism cases; its membership in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS; and its support for counter messaging and CVE platforms, such as the Sawab and Hedayah Centers, respectively. The Government of the UAE remained co-chair of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Communications Working Group along with the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as co-chair of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Stabilization Working Group with the United States and Germany.
The government’s security apparatus continued monitoring suspected terrorists in the UAE and foiled potential terrorist attacks within its borders. UAE customs, police, and other security agencies improved border security and worked with financial authorities to counter terrorist finance. UAE government officials worked closely with U.S. law enforcement counterparts to increase the UAE’s counterterrorism capabilities.
The UAE continued to deploy forces in Yemen to counter al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS, and to support local forces in counterterrorism operations.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in the UAE in 2018.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2018, the UAE continued to prosecute numerous individuals in terrorism-related cases using existing legislation. The UAE updated its legal framework to strengthen sentences for individuals convicted of cybercrime that supported terrorist organizations and unlawful entities. International human rights NGOs and activists have asserted the UAE uses its counterterrorism and cybercrime laws as cover to pursue cases against peaceful political dissidents and activists.
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 press reports, the Federal Appeal Court’s State Security Court examined numerous new terrorism-related cases in 2018 and retried many 2017 terrorism-related cases. Most cases involved defendants accused of promoting or affiliating with UAE-designated terrorist organizations, including ISIS, AQAP, and al-Nusrah Front.
As in previous years, the Government of the UAE worked closely with the United States, through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to improve its border security posture. Law enforcement information-sharing between the Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Division and DHS Homeland Security Investigations helped counter transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups. UAE points of entry used an internal, name-based watchlist system populated by local immigration, deportation, corrections, and security agencies to identify individuals who were prohibited from entering the country or sought by UAE authorities. Some human rights organizations claimed that activists, academics, and journalists who had written critically about UAE policy were included on such lists and barred from entry. INTERPOL and Gulf Cooperation Council 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 (MENAFATF) and the UAE’s FIU, the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. The UAE also participates in the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group and the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC). The UAE remained a regional and global financial and transportation hub for terrorist organizations to send and receive financial support. Operational capability constraints and political considerations sometimes prevented the 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 continual basis.
Except for free trade zones (FTZs) specifically established for financial activities, which were well regulated, the UAE’s numerous FTZs varied in their compliance with and supervision of 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 a 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 May, the United States and the UAE jointly took action to disrupt an extensive currency exchange network in Iran and the UAE that financed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. The UAE also announced the designation of members of Hizballah’s Shura Council, the primary decision-making body of Hizballah, alongside the United States and other TFTC members.
In October, the UAE issued Federal Law No. 20 of 2018 on Facing AML/CFT and Illegal Organizations. The law mandates abiding by any decisions and sanctions issued by the UNSC. It also includes regulation of holding and declaring virtual and digital currencies. The UAE introduced in the law the obligations of Designated Non-Financial Business and Professions in addition to financial institutions, which are required to put in place adequate systems and controls to assess their risk exposure to financing of terrorism. It empowers law enforcement with the authority to conduct undercover operations.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: The UAE government continued to play a leadership role in global efforts to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment. The UAE continued its support of Hedayah, the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism, and the Sawab Center, a collaborative partnership with the United States to amplify credible voices to counter terrorist messaging online. The government separately worked to amplify credible alternative narratives by supporting the annual Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies and the Muslim Council of Elders. Through the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, the government regulated all mosque sermons and religious publications to “instill the principle of moderation in Islam.”
The Ministry of Tolerance has been active in promoting messages of tolerance and coexistence through the introduction of several initiatives, such as the Communities Forum, the International Tolerance Symposium, the National Festival of Tolerance, and the UAE Tolerance and Peaceful Coexistence Association. In Dubai, CVE was a central theme of the World Tolerance Summit. Additionally, in November 2018, the Ministry of Tolerance and the Ministry of Education launched a joint project to promote tolerance across public and private schools and to plan extra-curricular student activities to encourage acceptance and respect for others. The Ministry of Interior also organized the March UAE International Conference on National Security and Elimination of Risks, “Tolerance, Moderation and Dialogue in Facing Extremism.” The Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies has hosted the fifth annual forum in Abu Dhabi titled “Virtue: An Opportunity for Global Peace,” gathering 800 scholars and religious figures from 120 countries. Prominent UAE officials and religious leaders continued to publicly criticize and highlight the dangers of terrorist narratives.
International and Regional Cooperation: The UAE was a vocal and active participant in counterterrorism efforts at both the regional and international levels. The UAE is a member of the GCTF and hosted a workshop on monitoring, measuring, and evaluating CVE policies, programs, and activities. It also continued to play a role in global counterterrorism efforts through its training of Somali forces and its deployment in Yemen, to counter terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab, AQAP, and ISIS-Yemen.