The United Arab Emirates announced Wednesday that they busted a cell of Saudi and Emirati members plotting “terror” attacks in the two countries and other states.
The suspects “imported material and equipment with the aim of committing terror acts,” according to an official statement on WAM state news agency. The arrests came after coordination between security authorities in the two Gulf states.
“The security authorities in the UAE, in coordination with the related security parties in Saudi Arabia, announced the arrest of an organized cell from the deviant group that was planning to carry out actions against national security of both countries and some sisterly states,” WAM said.
The phrase “the deviant group” is often used by authorities in Saudi Arabia to describe al Qaeda members.
The cell, which was arrested with the help of Saudi authorities, has acquired “materials and equipment with the aim of executing terrorist operations,” WAM said.
The UAE, a major oil exporter, regional business hub and U.S. ally, has detaining more than 60 local Islamists this year.
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 organization 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 September 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.