Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 1 - United Arab Emirates

Overview: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not experience any terrorist attacks in 2017. The UAE government continued to prosecute numerous individuals for terrorism-related offenses.

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 support for counter messaging and countering violent extremism platforms, such as the Sawab and Hedayah Centers, respectively. The UAE government remained co-chair of the Coalition Communications working group along with the United States and the United Kingdom (UK).

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 together with financial authorities to counter terrorist finance. UAE government officials worked closely with their 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 support local forces in counterterrorism operations.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2017, the UAE continued to prosecute numerous individuals in terrorism-related cases using existing legislation. There were no changes to counterterrorism legislation in the calendar year. International human rights non‑governmental organizations and activists have asserted the UAE uses its counterterrorism and cyber-crime 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 Court of Appeal examined more than a dozen new terrorism‑related cases in 2017 and the Federal Appeal Court’s State Security Court retried a number of high-profile cases from 2016. The Federal Supreme Court upheld life sentence verdicts issued by the lower Court for two Emiratis convicted of terrorism-related activities in two separate cases, one of which involved the targeting of a U.S. citizen. Most cases involved defendants accused of promoting or affiliating with UAE-designated terrorist organizations, including ISIS, AQAP, al-Nusrah Front, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

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. Law enforcement information sharing between 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 were 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 (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. The UAE also participates 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 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 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 anti-money laundering and 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 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 UAE joined the United States and other GCC countries to create the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In October, the UAE jointly designated several individuals and entities associated with AQAP and ISIS-Yemen in coordination with other TFTC members.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The UAE government continued to support 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 continued to regulate all mosque sermons and religious publications to “instill the principle of moderation in Islam.” In September, the UAE began implementing compulsory moral education classes for public and private school students in all grades, in an effort to promote religious tolerance and counter violent tendencies in youth.

Prominent UAE officials and religious leaders continued to publicly criticize and highlight the dangers of terrorist narratives. In addition, in an October cabinet reshuffle, the position of Minister of State for Tolerance was elevated to become Minister of Tolerance. Through this ministry, the government continued to promote interfaith engagement and dialogue.

International and Regional Cooperation: The UAE was a vocal and active participant in counterterrorism efforts at both the regional and international levels. The UAE signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Union Parliament expressing the country’s commitment to combat terrorism around the world. It also continued to play a role in global counterterrorism efforts through its training of Somali forces and deployment in Yemen, to counter terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab, AQAP, and ISIS-Yemen. In December, the UAE co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist ‎fighters. The UAE is also a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and until September, was co-chair with the UK of its Countering Violent Extremism working group.