Dubai: the security dimensions of the region's premier free port.
Moreover, as an unfortunate, but perhaps inescapable, hidden cost of Dubai's emergence as the region's premier free port, for many years the emirate has also attracted the attention of both criminal and terrorist international organizations, many of which have exploited Dubai's geographic location, laissez-faire attitudes, and impressive infrastructure to set up various smuggling, gunrunning, human-trafficking, money-laundering and terror-funding operations.
Certainly, with the exception of delinquent acts performed by thrill-seeking younger members of the national population, most crimes in Dubai are far from petty and are often perpetrated by large cartels. Thus, while it remains relatively safe to walk the city's streets at all times of day and night, massive transit-related crimes are being committed behind the scenes. Most worryingly, despite Dubai's undoubted usefulness to the groups controlling such activities, the emirate has not been able to remain completely in the eye of the storm and has suffered from a number of terrorist attacks on its own soil. Although most of the recent attempts have been foiled, any escalation of such activity will threaten its increasingly foreign-investment dependent economy. The emirate's carefully constructed reputation for stability will decline, and the government will become less able to defend its crucial laissez-faire policies from international criticism.
SMUGGLING AND CONTRABAND
Since the waves of merchant immigration from Iran and other parts of the Gulf that began in the late nineteenth century, (1) Dubai's much described re-exporting merchants were often operating in a grey area between legal trade and smuggling. Certainly, the "informal shipments" of textiles, gold and other goods out of India and the Far East that took place during the 1950s and early 1960s were only lucrative for Dubai-based merchants if they were able to avoid the taxes, tariffs and other restrictions imposed by various governments. By the mid-1960s, with Jawaharlal Nehru's administration still in power, and with regime change having taken place in Pakistan, (2) even tighter trading legislation was coming into effect in South Asia. Dubai's once-profitable grey area had all but disappeared, as it had become well-known that many merchants, both indigenous and expatriate, were openly engaged in contraband operations. So illicit had their activities become that certain companies would often have to wait several weeks before collecting their goods; they could not risk their dhows being intercepted by patrol boats. (3)
Gold re-exporting became particularly problematic following the opening of Dubai's airport and improvements to Sharjah's air-freight facilities at this time. (4) More frequent inspections began to take place in the former, while greater duties on air shipments were imposed by the latter in an effort to recoup some of the construction costs. In order to keep overhead low, many of Dubai's gold merchants were forced to hire pilots to land aircraft on the sabkha, or salt flats, and then to transfer the gold from the aircraft to their safes. (5) Similarly, by the late 1960s, the British-proposed Dangerous Drugs Regulation that was eventually put into effect by the Trucial States Council also made the shipment of hashish and opium illegal. Throughout the previous decade, Dubai and Sharjah had been major centers for the re-export (and local consumption) of such substances. Thus, the trade was forced underground. (6)
Today, Dubai remains synonymous with smuggling. Many shipping companies continue to exploit loopholes in other countries' trading regulations or actively evade foreign customs-enforcement services, and such opportunities have begun to attract mafia groups to the emirate from much further afield, including Russia and China. In some widely reported cases, these operations have generated much negative publicity. Notably, in 2001, British American Tobacco's UAE agent was accused by British broadsheet newspapers of being involved in the illegal re-exporting of cigarettes from Dubai to Somalia, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Remarkably, it was also claimed that his trading group had smuggled over 70 million cigarettes from Dubai into the UK, which has very high cigarette taxes. Tellingly, when presented with hundreds of pages of signed correspondence with BAT and the minutes of BAT meetings in which he was described as their "transiteer in Dubai," the merchant in question defended his position by stating that he had only been acting in the "time-honoured business tradition of Dubai, ... which is an entrepot centre for goods being imported for re-export."
Nevertheless, later that year an official report from the World Customs Organization confirmed that Dubai was one of the main smuggling routes into Europe. (7) Following an investigation by Paul O'Neil, the former U.S. Treasury secretary, the United States accused Dubai of serving as a conduit for Taliban gold. Indeed, the UAE had been slow to distance itself from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. (8) Even in the days following the Anglo-American invasion, the federal authorities were permitting incoming flights of Ariana, the national airline of Afghanistan, (9) and were allowing small airlines based in Dubai and Sharjah to operate flights into Kabul and Kandahar. Most of these were thought to be laden on their return with gold bound for re-export to Pakistan and Sudan. (10) Moreover, Dubai has also recently received much bad international press on those occasions when its smuggling operations have spilled over into violent gang crime. In particular, in 2004, a human carrier for a Russian mafia group smuggling diamonds into Dubai was assassinated along with his entire family. (11) In a separate incident, members of two rival smuggling outfits were involved in a shootout in broad daylight on the premises of a major tourist hotel. (12)
GUNRUNNING AND THE MERCHANT OF DEATH
Dubai has also had a long history of involvement in the international arms trade. Many of the UAE's contemporary arms exhibitions are completely legal, including the Dubai Air Show, which features not only commercial aircraft but also military aircraft and ordnance, and Abu Dhabi's IDEX, which is thought to be one of the largest weapons bazaars in the developing world. As the research department of a U.S. think tank has described it, purchasing arms at the latter event is "as simple and straightforward as buying groceries from a local supermarket." (13) However, underneath such state-sponsored exhibitions there also exists a large number of gunrunners who use Dubai as a base for massive illegal operations. While this is nothing new, with such activities having been detected and frowned upon in Dubai for over a century, it would seem that the emirate's reputation as an arms-trafficking depot has worsened even further in recent years.
As a result of suspicions that Dubai and Ajman were being used by French and other merchants as hubs to ship over 200 rifles per month into India, (14) as early as 1902, the British had introduced specific legislation to tighten up the arms trade in the lower Gulf. (15) Nevertheless, by 1910, the situation had barely improved, with British patrol boats regularly intercepting dhows laden with arms. Most infamously, having trailed a suspicious dhow to Dubai and then subsequently having received reports of a secret arms cache located in the town, the HMS Hyacinth laid anchor off the coast (16) and dispatched a small force of Royal Marines to conduct a search. Encountering stiff resistance from the gunrunners, several of the soldiers were wounded, while nearly 40 Dubai nationals were killed. The battle only came to an end after the ruler, Sheikh Buti bin Suhayl Al-Maktum, emerged from his house and called for a ceasefire. (17) Significantly, the British political resident demanded a huge sum of 50,000 rupees by way of compensation and instructed the British agent in Sharjah to confiscate 400 rifles from Dubai's merchants. (18) By mid-century, little had changed; major Kuwaiti gunrunners such as Khalaf bin Ali Al-Zamami were shipping massive consignments of revolvers and cartridges through Dubai during the late 1930s, and British patrols were being stepped up during World War II, given the concern that German arms shipments were passing through the lower Gulf. (19) Moreover, even though the Trucial States Council responded to British pressure in the late 1950s and introduced new arms regulations, it was estimated that Dubai was still re-exporting over 800 rifles and 300,000 rounds of ammunition each year. (20) Perhaps most worryingly, by the 1960s, it was becoming increasingly apparent that various non-Middle Eastern gunrunners were also using Dubai as one of their principal conduits. Certainly, the British were made aware of a major Belgian arms company that was establishing agents in the sheikhdom; (21) following independence in 1971, Dubai rapidly emerged as one of the most prominent mercenary supply bases in the world.
Even very recently, Dubai and its UAE neighbors, including Sharjah, have faced condemnation for their relaxed attitude towards the many international arms merchants who operate from their territories. Most notable among these has been the infamous "Merchant of Death" or "Embargo Buster," a Tajikistani national and the son-in-law of a former KGB general who in 2005 became the subject of a major Hollywood movie. (22) Having operated his own 50-plane airline, San Air (the largest Antonov cargo fleet in the world (23)), from Sharjah airport, (24) and having banked in Dubai, (25) the Merchant of Death was thought to have been the primary supplier of arms to Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, in addition to having airdropped weapons into Rwanda, Angola, Sierra Leone and the Congo in exchange for "blood diamonds." (26) Furthermore, during the late 1990s, a number of UN reports implicated his company in the equipping of the Taliban regime. (27) Tellingly, he was only deported from the UAE in late 2001 following intense pressure from the United States as it attempted to cut off the flow of weapons into Afghanistan. (28) A number of other high-profile gunrunners have now also left, with many relocating to the vicinity of the even less regulated Grozny airport in Chechnya. (29) Dubai has nevertheless remained in the headlines over its notorious weapons trade, especially in connection with the supply of centrifuge equipment and other nuclear technologies to Iran. As late as 2004, it was thought that one of the underground nuclear network's chief brokers, a Sri Lankan national known as "Nuclear Khan," was operating from a base in Dubai, (30) while at present it is assumed that Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani nuclear engineer who runs one of the world's largest nuclear proliferation rings, is shipping uranium to Iran and North Korea with the assistance of a company in Dubai. (31)
SLAVERY AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING
In parallel to these gunrunning operations, Dubai also has a lengthy and troubled record of association with slave trading and, more recently, international human-trafficking organizations, even though there have been concerted attempts to stamp out such activities in the region for over 150 years. Certainly, as early as the 1840s, the British political resident was painfully aware of the slaving operations based out of the lower Gulf, most of which were collecting East Africans and transporting them by land into the Arabian interior. (32) It has been estimated that at one point, 12,000 slaves were passing through the region each year. (33) While many British individuals were undoubtedly heavily involved and prospering from this trade, (34) the growing moral consensus against slavery in the empire that had led to the outlawing of such activities in most British dominions by 1838 had nonetheless also begun to spread to the Gulf, (35) even though these sheikhdoms were merely in treaty relations with Britain, rather than formal colonies. (36) Consequently, additional slavery-related layers were added to the original 1835 peace treaties. Coming into effect in 1847, these permitted British patrols to detain and search suspected vessels and required all Somalis (most of whom were British subjects) to be freed from slave labor. Moreover, the export of slaves from Africa on Arab ships was prohibited, (37) and in 1856 the restrictions were further tightened, requiring all of the treaty-signing rulers to hand over the crews of suspected "delinquent slaving boats" that entered their ports. (38) Unfortunately, these treaties were rarely enforced, with many sheikhs reluctant to terminate what had always been a highly profitable venture. Indeed, it is thought that throughout this period the Qawasim ruler, Sheikh Abdullah bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, was even levying a tax on each slave imported successfully through Sharjah or Ras al-Khaimah. (39)
By the late nineteenth century, the situation was little better, with many slaves still being shipped into Dubai and then taken to work on irrigation projects in Oman. (40) Importantly, Britain's ability to restrain the trade had been compromised at that time by French encroachment into Gulf affairs, (41) specifically the Quai d'Orsay's decision in the early 1890s to allow Arab slave traders to use the French flag and to register their vessels in either the port of Sur in Oman or in Djibouti on the Red Sea coast of Africa. (42) In the 1920s, with such foreign influence having subsided, Britain was able to become more proactive, and on occasion the Royal Navy shelled the forts of rulers who refused to manumit slaves. (43) Moreover, in 1937, the political resident publicly reaffirmed Britain's anti-slavery policy in the lower Gulf, stating that the ban on slaving was total and that Britain would organize the repatriation of slaves, thereby easing the financial burden on the rulers and merchants. (44) Nevertheless, as late as the 1950s, there were still multiple reports of slave trading in the region, with British documents claiming that, in one year alone, 59 cases were uncovered in Sharjah (45) (seemingly administered by the ruler's uncle (46)), with British oil companies discovered to be using slaves to assist their exploration teams. The renowned traveler Wilfred Thesiger recorded that hundreds of slaves were traveling through the villages of Buraimi to fuel the increasing demands of the American companies prospecting in Saudi Arabia. (47) Tellingly, even during the Trucial States Council meetings later in the decade that were attended by Sheikh Rashid bin Said Al-Maktum and his contemporaries, much time still had to be devoted to discussing strategies for curbing the trade. (48)
Significantly, although such formal slavery became far less common following the creation of the Trucial Oman Scouts (49) and eventually died out following the formation of the federation, Dubai has until now remained a key shipment hub and in some cases the ultimate destination for a large volume of involuntary or semi-voluntary human cargo. As recently as 2005, the high-impact "Annual Trafficking in Persons" report placed Dubai and the UAE in the very highest rank of countries suspected of permitting human trafficking. Rather damningly, this meant that the emirate was considered to be a "Tier 3" offender: as a state that "does not comply with the minimum standards as laid down by international law and is not making significant efforts to do so." This placed Dubai on the same level as Burma, North Korea and Cambodia. (50) There are some indications that such pressure has now forced the UAE to tighten up its regulations, in much the same way that earlier pressure from the International Labor Organization had required the UAE to permit active workers' associations? (51) Notably, the much-maligned use of purchased Pakistani child jockeys and stable workers at camel race tracks (52) has now come to an end, with the federal government finally outlawing the practice and, rather bizarrely, requiring camel trainers to invest in robotic jockeys rather than relying on young boys. (53) More significantly, in mid 2006, a new law was introduced that made the passage and exploitation of humans an imprisonable offense in the UAE. (54) It is thought that the new legislation has already managed to reduce the number of illegally imported domestic servants from South Asia and the Far East, and as a reflection of these improvements the most recent "Annual Trafficking in Persons" report has downgraded the UAE to the second tier, stating that it is now a country that is merely "vulnerable to losing ground on its human-rights record." (55)
There is little doubt, however, that, in 2008, Dubai remains the region's primary center for modern-day slavery. Most of the young women who come to Dubai to fuel the explosion of the prostitution industry are brought across under false pretences. Many are married women with children and are hired in their home country by visiting agents of lower class Dubai hotels or by the representatives of prominent businessmen. They are invariably promised a minimum salary in return for working as waitresses or hostesses; yet upon arrival in the emirate, they are normally separated from their passports, are rarely granted a valid employment visa, and are housed along with many others in substandard conditions. In some extreme cases, they are not permitted to leave the hotels they work for; even if they need medical care, they will be escorted to and from the clinic. Normally, the only way they can "buy back" their passport from their sponsor and thereby legally leave the UAE is by participating in prostitution rings. As illegal immigrants they have no recourse; should they report their exploitation to the authorities, they have reason to fear imprisonment or deportation. Moreover, as an illegal employment conduit to other areas of the Middle East, Dubai continues to serve many companies well, with a large number of Filipinos being issued employment visas in the emirate for dangerous construction work in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the Manila government's ban on its nationals visiting these countries. Indeed, it is thought that Camp Anaconda, the U.S. base in Balad just north of Baghdad, was built by 8,000 such workers under the constant threat of mortar attacks. (56) Crucially, many of these were allegedly hired by a British-run labor firm in Dubai that transports its employees via the airport's old Terminal 2.
MONEY LAUNDERING AND TERROR FUNDING
Equally damaging to Dubai's international reputation, especially since September 11 and the subsequent accusations of terrorist funding, has been the emirate's well-known role as one of the world's major money-laundering capitals. As with its longstanding relationship with smuggling, gunrunning and slavery, the emirate's function as an illegal money-transfer hub is nothing new, rooted far back in the early twentieth century. Most of Dubai's merchants during this period conducted their transactions through a system of trust, or hawala, in which goods would be shipped to another country and payment would be made without the need for any receipt or documentation. Given personal connections, such transfers were normally quite safe and efficient; if an individual did not complete his side of the bargain, both he and his family would be permanently blacklisted. (57) Crucially, even with the arrival of the Imperial Bank of Iran and the British Bank of the Middle East, (58) little changed, with many merchants still preferring to use the hawala system to finance the dhows that brought their goods to Dubai's creek. (59) From the 1960s onward, with few controls placed on the new banks, most businessmen began to combine hawala with the advantages of more sophisticated banking. This hybrid system of informal and formal practices made Dubai increasingly attractive to visiting depositors, especially those who had made large sums of money from real estate in India and were unable to channel their profits back into Indian banks, given the described closed nature of the Indian economy at that time. (60) Many of these property tycoons eventually found themselves unable to return to India due to their association with mafia-run money laundering operations, and many chose to invest their profits in Dubai businesses. Remarkably, some of these tycoons were thought to have been sheltered by sympathetic Dubai nationals who had investments in India, and some of them were even given UAE passports. (61)
In recent years, international investigations have claimed that Dubai's banks and investment-dependent sectors such as the real-estate market are now more involved than ever before in money laundering, with the emirate's relatively porous regulatory borders being unable to prevent hot money from flowing in from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the former USSR. Terrorism Monitor has stated that huge amounts of criminal income are regularly transferred from South Asia to the Gulf states, most often through Dubai, and some $20 billion of this is believed to be conducted using the hawala system. (62) Similarly, in 1999, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen warned UAE officials that vast quantities of criminal revenues were being laundered through Dubai's banking sector. (63) Worryingly, a later crime-threat assessment issued by a U.S. intelligence agency declared that "Dubai has become a significant center for financing illicit activities, in part because the preference of many businesses to deal in large amounts of cash makes it difficult for banks to distinguish between legitimate and illicit transactions." (64) Perhaps most damning, however, was a lengthy article published in the Wall Street Journal that discussed documents proving Dubai was a major site for money laundering. It concluded that, "... to the United States and other global financial crime investigators, no country in the Middle East is more important than the tiny UAE, the financial hub of the Persian Gulf with a long history of lax regulation and a role as a conduit...." (65)
Faced with such criticism, the UAE Central Bank set up a special "anti-money-laundering and suspicious-cases unit" in 1999 that was supposedly given access to all relevant powers, and in 2000 a national anti-money-laundering committee was established. Furthermore, in late 2001, an anti-money-laundering law was passed by the Council of Ministers in an almost immediate response to the widespread rumors that al-Qaeda funding had flowed through Dubai both before and after the September 11 attacks. (66) Early the following year, this was strengthened by a further law that allowed UAE financial authorities to seize dubious funds while investigations took place. This resolved many earlier legal contradictions regarding the confidentiality of bank accounts. (67) By mid-2002, at a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force held in Hong Kong, the UAE was declared to have finally established a comprehensive anti-money-laundering system and to be "in a very good position to cooperate in the internationally declared fight against money laundering." (68)
Nevertheless, there are many who doubt that such illegal activities have really been curtailed. Recent whistleblowers reveal that the hawala system remains prevalent in the UAE banking sector and that the Central Bank is powerless to intervene. (69) Indeed, as late as February 2007, the Central Bank was thought to be still trying to freeze accounts belonging to moneylenders, some six years after the legislation came into effect. (70) Among the suspect accounts have been those of Iranian drug smugglers in Dubai who have sought to avoid a team of German investigators, (71) and a large number of accounts belonging to Indian expatriates who supposedly have low incomes yet enjoy annual turnovers of millions of dollars. (72) Certainly, in some cases, accounts have been discovered in major Dubai-based banks that have enormous balances yet have been ostensibly set up by fathers for their sons at university, or by tour guides, shopkeepers, used-car salesmen and perfume vendors, all with official salary statements of less than $1000 per month. (73) Other incredible examples would include an Air Lanka employee whose salary was $2000 per month, yet who was receiving transfers from New York banks totaling over $2 million. When questioned, he stated that he had made fortunate investments on the New York Stock Exchange. (74)
The greatest unchecked flow of money has, however, been from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Ever since the breakup of the USSR, it is thought that millions of dollars were brought to Dubai and the UAE so that Russians could purchase gold, electronics and other consumer durables to then import back into their home country. (75) As a natural extension of this trade, CIS visitors would often establish shell accounts in Dubai banks, before then seeking to shift their profits to U.S.-based correspondence banks. (76) By 2001, over 300 accounts in just one Dubai bank were thought to be of CIS origin, (77) and, according to Central Bank auditors, over $30 million was being rerouted out of CIS accounts held in another bank, with no visible connection to either government contracts or oil transactions. (78) Most disturbingly, later that year, a Sharjah national who was a member of the Central Bank's investigation team had his house attacked by suspected Russian money launderers, while an Indian member of the team began to receive death threats. (79)
Specific examples of laundered CIS money have included funds transferred from Uzbekistan via a group of four accounts referred to as the "Semenchenko portfolio"; it is believed they were based in a Sharjah bank and opened with the cooperation of a UAE national member of the staff. (80) Uzbekistanis were also implicated in a scandal involving a branch of a major multinational bank in Sharjah that held an account with a monthly state salary of only $800, yet which enjoyed an annual turnover of about $1.7 million, the majority of which was eventually dispersed to other accounts. (81) Similarly, an Azerbaijani national was intercepted while shifting huge sums from Turkey and Iran to Dubai. The only detail he had supplied was the number of an anonymous P.O. box in Baku, Azerbaijan, and he was unable to provide any explanation for his huge remittances to the UAE. (82) Equally controversial have been CIS accounts that have been opened with minimal checks in supposedly reputable banks by individuals claiming to be former U.S. congressmen who needed a discreet and efficient means of transferring cash from their paper-recycling businesses in Somalia. (83) Most staggering was an account that was opened by a CIS-origin "mystery salesman" that soon had a balance of over $340 million. (84) With the high-profile arrest and deportation of a Georgian mafia leader and money launderer in early 2007, (85) it is clear that many other such suspect accounts remain in operation, with the Central Bank as yet unable to tighten all loopholes.
Incurring the harshest international condemnations have of course been those Dubai- and UAE-based accounts that have been suspected of having links with terrorist organizations. Notably, in 2001, a large Somali-owned financial and telecom conglomerate was discovered to be managing several large accounts in Dubai banks. Confusingly, these accounts had names such as Help for Somalia, Aid for Somalia, and Support for Somalians; yet, when U.S. authorities seized the group's U.S. assets, it was soon established that the interest was being channeled into suspected terrorist accounts. Tellingly, the group's address in Dubai was an innocuous P.O. box number, that several other suspicious Somali accounts had also supplied. (86) Similarly, in 2002, several Algerian import-export companies were caught transferring funds to banks in Dubai and Sharjah without having provided the necessary bills of lading that proved their goods had physically been shipped. When the Central Bank of Algeria attempted to investigate, it was found that all of the Dubai-based holding companies had disappeared, causing suspicion that the operation had been a front for terrorist funding. (87) Also connecting Dubai to African shells was a series of accounts that appeared to have facilitated the movement of over $90 million between 2000 and 2002. While the corresponding account was registered in Liberia, the UAE-based accounts were believed to have been opened by a British financier who had previously admitted to having hidden money for a jailed U.S. stock promoter, (88) thereby fueling the suspicion that money was being laundered on behalf of a high profile third party. (89) At about the same time, a possible terror link was also established between Sudan and the UAE when it was discovered that a Sudanese company had been purchasing oil without confirmed letters of credit in Sharjah by using the services of a bank in Fujairah. The oil was apparently being bought directly from tanker crews, thereby leaving no paper trail and allowing the oil to be transported back to East Africa, where it could be sold for a large profit. (90)
Finally, most closely associated with al-Qaeda's activities, in the summer of 2001, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) approached the UAE Central Bank with a list of suspects it believed were receiving substantial funds from sources in Dubai, (91) despite their supposed menial professions as cooks, drivers and salesmen. The UAE failed to respond to these pre-September 11 warnings, and Saudi Arabia blacklisted the Dubai-based banks in question. Only following the personal intervention of members of UAE ruling families was the embargo lifted. (92) Moreover, the U.S. September 11 Commission estimated that the bulk of the funds for the attack, some $500,000, had been wired to the United States via the UAE Exchange Centre, one of many ill-regulated remittance companies used by South Asian expatriates working in the Gulf to send money home to their families. Specifically, it was claimed that the ringleader, Muhammad Atta, together with a young man from Ras al-Khaimah, Marwan Al-Shehhi, (93) who later went on to fly the second plane into the World Trade Center, had used the Bur Dubai branch of this company to send money to Florida in advance of their arrival. (94) The UAE Exchange Centre's accounts in New York were frozen, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill visited its headquarters in Dubai to conduct an investigation. (95) It is thought that the remainder of the attack's funds were also channeled through Dubai banks. Certainly, one of al-Qaeda's alleged financial managers, Mustafa Ahmad Al-Hisawai, was accused of receiving a bank transfer of $15,000 in Dubai on September 9, before leaving the UAE for Pakistan the following day. (96) More recently, the prosecution's case against the possible twentieth hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, also included references to his funding having been channelled through Dubai-based money launderers. (97)
A HISTORY OF TERROR
Notwithstanding the anti-British Front for the Liberation of Occupied Eastern Arabia of the 1940s and the National Front-inspired violence of the 1950s. (98) over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, Dubai and the UAE suffered several spates of serious terrorist attacks and other politically motivated acts of violence on their own soil. While in most cases Dubai has been a victim of cross-fire due to its unfortunate geographic location and its large expatriate population, a number of these incidents were also purposely intended to discredit the establishment and the ruling family, often by highlighting Dubai's relationship with the West and the other religious and cultural shortcomings of the emirate's ruling bargain. (99) Crucially of course, the stakes have become much higher, given that Dubai's economy is now heavily reliant on free zones, tourism and other economic activities that are dependent on the confidence of the international community. Indubitably, foreign investment would be cut, tourism would dry up, and the whole developmental model would collapse should there be just one or two terrorist incidents in the emirate today.
Perhaps the first organized series of attacks that were aimed at destabilizing Dubai and frightening both the British and the indigenous population were those launched by Omani terrorists in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most of these men were supporting the Imam Ghalib against the government in Muscat; (100) many of them would join the more conventional Dhofar Liberation Front later in the decade. Crucially, it would seem that most of the protagonists were actually based in Dubai, as sympathizers provided them with safe houses and in some cases even Trucial States' travel documentation, so that they could move freely without their Omani papers. Land mines were also stored in Dubai, seemingly in cars belonging to associates of both Sheikh Saqr bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah, and Sheikh Ali bin Rashid Al-Nuaymi, (101) the eldest son of the ruler of Ajman. (102) Shockingly, in 1959, a three-ton truck transporting Trucial Oman Scouts soldiers was blown up by one of these mines on the road between Dubai and Buraimi; (103) soon afterward, a Land Rover was blown up in Buraimi itself. (104) As panic spread, all motorists began to place sandbags on the fenders of their cars so as to better absorb such explosions, (105) Throughout 1960, the terror attacks continued, and on one occasion a mine exploded on a private road belonging to Sheikh Abdulla bin Salim Al-Kaabi, the ruler of the would-be emirate of Mahadha. (106) Most dramatically, in 1961, the Omani rebels struck at sea and became the perpetrators of one of the most destructive acts of terrorism in the Middle East. The Dara, flagship of the British India Steam Navigation Company, was carrying over 800 passengers from Bombay to Basra via Dubai. When it was approaching the coast of Dubai, two explosions ripped through many cabins, killing 212 passengers and 24 crew members. Although British salvage vessels managed to tow the ship away, its burning hull eventually sank two days later off the coast of Umm al-Qawain. (107) Although the exact method of the attack remains unknown, the British agent surmised that timers had been set so that the bombs would explode upon the Dara's arrival in Muscat, but that bad weather had caused them to go off early (108) Indeed, it later transpired that, after planting their explosives, the terrorists had left the ship when it berthed in Bahrain before eventually being captured in Oman. (109)
Although the Omani threat soon subsided, during the 1970s and 1980s, Dubai and the new federation became something of a proxy battleground for other organized terror groups and freedom fighters seeking international publicity for their causes. In 1973, a Japan Airlines jet en route from Amsterdam to Tokyo was jointly hijacked by members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Japanese Red Army. After the new pirate captain redirected the aircraft to land in Dubai, Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al-Maktum took the role of chief hostage negotiator by communicating with the terrorists from the airport control tower. Having assumed that Muhammad would grant their release, given Dubai's pro-Palestinian stance, the hijackers soon realized their miscalculation and demanded to be refueled. His options exhausted after three days of threat-laden negotiations, Muhammad had to grant the aircraft safe passage to Libya, where all of the hijackers were allowed to walk free. (110) The following year, a British Airways jet was hijacked by the PLO and also forced to land in Dubai before being refuelled under similar circumstances. (111)
In 1977, the UAE faced an even more difficult year with the hijacking of a Gulf Air flight bound for Muscat by an unknown team of terrorists, the detonation of explosives in the offices of the Egyptian airline carrier at Sharjah airport, (112) and the assassination of a prominent Dubai national and the federal Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Saif Said bin Ghubash, by gunmen while escorting the Syrian foreign minister to Abu Dhabi airport. (113) Most dramatically, towards the end of 1977, the Baader-Meinhof gang chose to fly their hijacked Lufthansa jet with 91 passengers to Rome and Bahrain before finally demanding clearance from Dubai. Negotiating with the hijackers' Arabic-speaking ringleader, Sheik Muhammad was again able to confront the terrorists, delaying their departure for over 48 hours. (114) Crucially, this allowed a German commando team to take positions around Mogadishu airport and storm the jet upon its arrival in Somalia, killing all of the hijackers and releasing all of the hostages. (115) Six years later, tragedy struck once more, when a Gulf Air flight from Abu Dhabi to Karachi exploded in mid-air somewhere close to Dubai; (116) and in the following year, the UAE ambassador to France, Khalifa bin Ahmad Al-Mubarak, (117) was assassinated upon his arrival in Paris, perhaps in connection with tension over OPEC quotas at that time? (118) The fear that this killing generated was enough to persuade Sheikh Rashid bin Said Al-Maktum to finally have plainclothes bodyguards around him during public appearances. (119)
By the mid-1980s, little had improved, with bombs being discovered onboard a Jordanian aircraft in Dubai in 1985, and with bombs exploding at the Syrian Airlines office at Abu Dhabi airport in 1986. More recently, in the 1990s, several foreign intelligence operatives, including an Iranian intelligence colonel, have been assassinated in the UAE; and in early 1999, explosives were discovered in one of Dubai's first large-scale shopping malls, Deira City Centre? (120) Infamously, on Christmas Eve of that year, yet another aircraft was diverted to the emirate when Pakistani hijackers seized an Air India flight en route from Nepal to Delhi. A hostage was murdered and thrown out of the plane when it reached Dubai, before the hijackers flew to a warmer welcome in Kandahar. The crisis (including the tragedy in Dubai) became the subject of both a National Geographic Channel documentary and a Bollywood action movie. (121)
Since then, almost all terror-related incidents in Dubai and the UAE appear to have had at least some connection to al-Qaeda or organizations purported to be linked to al-Qaeda. Certainly, in addition to the described money-laundering services and the personal involvement of UAE nationals in al-Qaeda's international attacks, including the aforementioned Ras al-Khaimah national Marwan Al-Shehhi and another of the September 11 hijackers, Fayez Banihammad, (122) there have also been persistent claims that the country is home to many key sympathizers, and is regularly used as a safe haven and logistical base by various al-Qaeda cells and associated renegades. Most notably, during the 9/11 Commission hearings, former U.S. secretary of defense William Cohen stated that, in 1999, the witness reports of paid agents in Afghanistan had informed the CIA that Osama bin Laden had set up a large hunting camp in the desert of the Helmand province complete with marquees, generators and refrigerators. Hoping to hit the suspected mastermind of the 1998 African embassy bombings, the Pentagon duly drew up plans for a cruise-missile strike but then had to abort it when it was learned that a C-130 transport aircraft with UAE markings had landed at the camp's airstrip. According to CIA and Department of Defense officials, decision makers were concerned that such an attack might compromise a UAE sheikh or other senior UAE official. (123) Tellingly, the former CIA director later testified that if the strike had gone ahead, "... It might have wiped out half of the UAE royal family in the process." Others claimed that "... the United Arab Emirates was becoming ... a persistent counterterrorism problem, ... as it was one of the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets to the outside world." (124)
The 9/11 Commission, although not touching on the widespread rumors that Osama Bin Laden himself had been receiving medical treatment in Dubai during the summer of 2001, (125) also reported that most of the September 11 hijackers had flown to the United States via the UAE. Indeed, it was claimed that 11 al-Qaeda men of Saudi origin, the presumed "muscle" for the operation, had traveled in groups of two or three from Dubai International Airport between April and June of that year. (126) Controversially, in September 2002, journalists learned that the suspected ringleader of the team that had attacked the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000 had been captured, but were only informed that the arrest had taken place in an undisclosed location in the Gulf. In a good example of carefully timed announcements of sensitive information, it was only revealed three months later, on Christmas Eve--traditionally the lowest-impact newspaper day in the West--that a "top ten" al-Qaeda operative had been captured in Dubai. Worryingly, it transpired that the Saudi suspect, Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, had been apprehended while in the final planning stages of attacks on "vital economic targets" that were aimed at inflicting "the highest possible casualties among nationals and foreigners." (127)
Also in 2002, various internationally published reports indicated that hundreds of volunteer soldiers of the Maktab Al-Khidmat (one of al-Qaeda's original support organizations) who had been captured in Afghanistan were actually UAE nationals. (128) Moreover, the reports claimed that a number of Dubai- and Fujairah-based "welfare associations" had been sending money to radical groups in Afghanistan and South Asia and had been encouraging young men to join terrorist groups. (129) In 2004, the perceived links between Dubai and al-Qaeda were further strengthened by another round of high-profile arrests, leading many to suspect these were merely the tip of the iceberg and that the emirate was still "playing a key role for al-Qaeda as a through-point" even three years after the September 11 attacks. (130) Notably, after alleged pressure from the CIA, the Dubai authorities arrested and extradited Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the al-Qaeda splinter group Haraktul Jihad Islami, who was believed to be responsible for training thousands of militants in the Rishkor camp close to Kabul and for carrying money and messages on behalf of Bin Laden. Crucially, he had disappeared from Afghanistan and Pakistan just days before Anglo-American forces arrived in October 2001. (131) Shortly afterwards, the arrest of al-Qaeda's Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani in Pakistan provided intelligence concerning two of his South African colleagues and "several other senior men" who were all either traveling from the UAE to Pakistan or were based in the UAE. (132)
THE PRESENT THREAT OF TERROR
As few would dispute, despite the unrestrained development taking place in Dubai, the necessary socioeconomic reforms, and the consequent and seemingly inescapable erosion of the ruling family's legitimacy, (133) there exists a certain overconfidence that nothing can go wrong and that somehow the emirate will remain aloof from acts of terror on its own doorstep. As in other Gulf states, there have been accusations that various terrorist organizations have been "bought off." Senior Qatari officials were recently alleged to have been paying a multi-million-dollar annual ransom to al-Qaeda since 2003 so as to prevent attacks from taking place on Qatari territory. (134) Moreover, in 2005, the struggling Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, made dark references to the sources of the funding for his enemies, most conspicuously the insurgent leader Abu Musab Al-Zaraqawi. Disturbingly, he stated that "... they are getting aid from al-Qaeda and from some financiers among some extremist Muslim organizations abroad ... and from countries that I will not name." Analysts agreed that these mystery countries were most likely to be Bahrain and Qatar. (135) With specific regard to Dubai, it has similarly been claimed that a number of Islamist groups, in addition to wealthy individuals, are supporting terror organizations financially. (136) However, regardless of whether these payments are in genuine support of the causes or are simply protection money, it would seem unnecessary for the emirate to have to rely on such measures. At present, most groups continue to benefit from Dubai's development successes so long as they can operate in relative freedom and can use the city's infrastructure for their own purposes. Even if one believes there is an unwritten understanding that the authorities will turn a blind eye to questionable activities--or that Dubai unwittingly permits itself to be used as a logistical terror hub--these steps are unlikely ever to be enough to prevent splinter groups or disaffected individuals from acting unilaterally against an establishment they perceive to be an ally of the Western powers.
Over the last few years, a large number of threats have been made to Dubai and the UAE by such undocumented factions, many of which refer explicitly to the country's close relationship to the United States and its supporting role in the War on Terror. Notably, in 2002, U.S. intelligence services intercepted a letter signed by the previously unknown "al-Qaeda Terrorist Organization in the United Arab Emirates Government," warning UAE officials to stop arresting al-Qaeda's "mujahideen sympathizers." Interestingly, the letter concluded with a boast: "You are well aware that we have infiltrated your security, censorship and monetary agencies along with other agencies that should not be mentioned," and demanded that the UAE "... get the idolaters out." (137) Similarly, in 2003, following the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, an audio message was recorded by al-Qaeda's Saleh Al-Aloofi that sought to incite violence in all of the pro-Western Gulf states, including the UAE, by stating, "To the brothers of Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the Emirates, and to all the lions of jihad in the countries neighboring Iraq, every one of us has to attack what is available in his country of soldiers, vehicles and airbases of the crusaders and the oil allocated for them." (138) Since 2005, the frequency and severity of the threats would seem to have increased even further. A few examples: underground Islamist websites have published warnings that "Dubai is rapidly changing into a secular state ... with the profound use of non-Islamic ways"; (139) al-Qaeda representatives have notified the Dubai authorities that they had discovered both the USS Harry Truman and the USS John Kennedy berthed in Port Jebel Ali after they had been used to "bombard the Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan"; (140) the U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi and the U.S. consulate in Dubai had to close temporarily due to bomb threats; (141) and another new group calling itself the al-Qaeda Organization in the Emirates and Oman issued a statement in July 2005 that called for the dismantling of all U.S. military installations in the UAE within ten days or "the ruling families would endure the fist of the mujahideen in their faces." (143)
(1) Frauke Heard-Bey, From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates (Longman, 1996), pp. 189-191; Christopher M. Davidson, The United Arab Emirates: A Study in Survival (Lynne Rienner, 2005), pp. 157-158.
(2) Ram Buxani, Taking the High Road (Dubai: Motivate, 2003), p. 101; Donald Hawley, The Emirates: Witness to a Metamorphosis (Norwich: Michael Russell, 2007), p.102. In 1958, Ayub Khan seized power in Pakistan, ushering in a new dictatorship.
(3) Buxani, p.101.
(4) Easa Saleh Al-Gurg, The Wells of Memory (London: John Murray, 1998), p. 104.
(5) Ibid., p. 103.
(6) Foreign Office 371/120553.
(7) The Guardian, December 17, 2001.
(8) Personal interviews, Abu Dhabi, March 2007.
(9) Iqbal Ismail Hakim, United Arab Emirates Central Bank and 9/11 Financing (GAAP, 2005), pp. 145-146.
(10) John Daly, "Viktor Bout: From International Outlaw to Valued Partner," in Terrorism Monitor, Vol.2, No.20 (2004).
(11) Hakim, p. 5; Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(12) Hakim, p. 5.
(13) Ibid, p. 88. Referring to a report issued by the Combat Films and Research Department of the Kennedy Center.
(14) In particular, the British were concerned that Anotonin Goguyer was active in the arms trade in the lower Gulf. See Slot, B. J. Mubarak, Al-Sabah: Founder of Modern Kuwait, 1896-1915 (Arabian Publishing, 2005), p. 46.
(15) Saleh Hamad Al-Sagri, "Britain and the Arab Emirates, 1820-1956" (PhD thesis. University of Kent at Canterbury, 1988), p. 305; Wilson. p. 39.
(16) Graeme Wilson, Rashid's Legacy: The Genesis of the Maktoum Family and the History of Dubai (Dubai: Media Prima, 2006), p. 39.
(17) Ibid, p. 40.
(18) The Times, December 30, 1910.
(19) Wilson, p. 78.
(20) Foreign Office 371/120553.
(21) Hawley 2007, p. 202.
(22) The movie Lord of War, starting Nicholas Cage, was loosely based on the "Merchant of Death."
(23) Taras Kuzio, "Loose Nukes and Al-Qaeda," in Terrorism Monitor, Vol.2, No.6 (2004).
(24) Hakim, pp. 88-89, 92.
(25) Ibid, p. 17.
(26) Ibid, pp. 88-89, 92.
(27) Ibid, p. 17.
(28) Ibid, pp. 88-89, 92.
(29) Victor Yassman, "The Russian Criminal World Played a Key Role in Chechnya and Continues to Do So," in Terrorism Monitor, Vol.1, No.8 (1995).
(30) Hakim, pp. 92-93.
(31) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(32) Lorimer, John G., Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman, and Central Arabia (Gregg International Publishers, 1970), p. 2475.
(33) Hawley, Donald, The Trucial States (George Allen and Unwin, 1970), p. 200.
(34) Ibid, p.200.
(35) Al-Sagri, p. 41; Heard-Bey. pp. 288-289.
(36) Davidson 2005, pp. 29-34.
(37) Heard-Bey, pp. 289-290.
(38) India Office SB/159; Lorimer. p. 725.
(39) Lorimer, p. 725; Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006.
(40) India Office SB/159.
(41) Davidson 2005, pp. 32-34.
(42) Muhammad Morsy Abdullah, The United Arab Emirates. A Modern History (Croom Helm, 1978), p.25; Hawley 1970, p.136.
(43) Most notably in 1925, the fort of the headman of Fujairah, Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Sharqi, was shelled. Hawley 2007, p.72.
(44) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006; Wilson, p.78.
(45) These reports are from 1954. Foreign Office 371/120553.
(46) The ruler's uncle being Sheikh Majid bin Saqr Al-Qasimi. Rush, Alan (ed.), Ruling Families of Arabia: The United Arab Emirates (Slough: Archive Editions 1991), p.266.
(47) Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands (Penguin, 1991), pp. 272, 284; Hawley 1970, p. 173.
(48) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006.
(49) Davidson 2005, p. 43.
(50) Reuters, July 8, 2006; Gulf News, July 15, 2006.
(51) Personal interviews, Dubai, July 2007.
(52) Buxani, pp. 80-81.
(53) The robot jockeys were developed by a Swiss firm and cost about $5500 each. See New Scientist 21st August 2005.
(54) Gulf News, July 15, 2006.
(55) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(56) Camp Anaconda is considered so dangerous that its moniker amongst U.S. personnel is "Mortaritaville."
(57) Hakim, p. 3.
(58) Wilson, p. 111.
(59) Hakim, p. 36.
(60) Hawley 2007, p. 18.
(61) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(62) Alexei Vassiliev, "Financing Terror: From Bogus Banks to Honey Bees," in Terrorism Monitor, Vol. 1, No.4 (2003).
(63) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006.
(64) Personal correspondence, March 2007.
(65) The Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2003.
(66) Khaleej Times, February 6, 2002.
(67) Gulf News, February 18, 2004.
(68) Khaleej Times, February 6, 2002.
(69) Hakim, p. 1.
(70) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(71) Hakim, pp. 3-4.
(72) Ibid, pp. 42-47 for examples.
(73) Ibid, pp. 57-59.
(74) Ibid, pp. 123-124.
(75) Ibid, p. 34.
(76) Ibid, p. 34.
(77) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007; Hakim, pp. 14, 22, 24.
(78) Hakim, pp. 164-167.
(79) Ibid, p. 6.
(80) Ibid, pp. 15, 22, 24.
(81) Ibid, p. 143.
(82) Ibid, pp. 61-62.
(83) Ibid, p. 97.
(84) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007; Hakim, pp. 36, 51.
(85) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(86) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007; Hakim, pp. 104-107.
(87) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007; Hakim, pp. 119-121.
(88) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007; Hakim, pp. 101-102.
(89) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(90) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007; Hakim, pp. 101-102.
(91) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(92) Hakim, pp. 199-200.
(93) Davidson 2005, pp. 79-80.
(94) The Daily Telegraph, December 1, 2001; Hakim, pp. 151-152.
(95) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007; Hakim, p. 1.
(96) USA Today, September 2, 2004.
(97) Personal interviews, Dubai, January 2007.
(98) Najat Abdullah Al-Nabeh, "United Arab Emirates: Regional and Global Dimensions" (PhD thesis. Claremont Graduate School, 1984), pp. 121-123.
(99) Davidson 2005, pp. 70-87.
(100) Most of the terrorists were thought to be drawn from the Bani Harth and the Bani Riyam. See Luce, Margaret, From Aden to the Gulf." Personal Diaries, 1956-1966 (Salisbury, Michael Russell, 1987), p.164; Hawley 2007, p. 62.
(101) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006; Hawley 2007, p. 289.
(102) Andrea B. Rugh, The Political Culture of Leadership in the United Arab Emirates (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 176.
(103) Hawley 2007, p. 173.
(104) Ibid. p. 177.
(105) Personal interviews, Durham, February 2007.
(106) Hawley 2007, p. 220.
(107) Buxani, pp. 11-12; Wilson, pp. 191-194.
(108) Hawley 2007, p. 288.
(109) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006; Luce, p. 165.
(110) Wilson, pp. 358-360.
(111) Merchant International Group Strategic Research and Corporate Intelligence August 25, 2005.
(113) Wilson, p. 431.
(114) Ibid, pp. 429-431.
(115) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006.
(116) Merchant International Group Strategic Research and Corporate Intelligence, August 25, 2005.
(117) Khalifa was the father of Khaldun bin Khalifa Al-Mubarak, the current director of the Mubadala Corporation in Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan's right-hand man.
(118) Davidson 2005, p. 205.
(119) Fahim, p. 159; Wilson, p. 355.
(120) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006; Merchant International Group Strategic Research and Corporate Intelligence August 25, 2005.
(121) The 2003 movie Zameen starred Abhishek Bachchan.
(122) USA Today, September 2, 2004. The UAE provided the second largest contingent of 9/11 hijackers after Saudi Arabia.
(123) Personal correspondence, March 2007.
(124) Hakim, p. 1; Personal correspondence, March 2007.
(125) It was widely rumored in Dubai that Bin Laden was receiving treatment for his kidney ailments in a Dubai-based hospital during the summer of 2001.
(126) USA Today, September 2, 2004.
(127) Personal interviews, Dubai, December 2003; The Times, December 24, 2002.
(128) Adam Robinson, Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of the Terrorist (Arcade, 2002), pp. 91-93.
(129) John Wilston, "The Roots of Extremism in Bangladesh," in Terrorism Monitor, Vol.3, No. 1 (2005).
(130) Quotes from Evan F. Kohlmann, a Washington-based terrorism researcher.
(131) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006; Financial Times, August 10, 2004.
(132) China Daily, August 9, 2004.
(133) See Christopher M. Davidson, "The Emirates ofAbu Dhabi and Dubai: Contrasting Roles in the International System," in Asian Affairs (vol.38, no. 1, 2007).
(134) Khaleej Times, May 4, 2005.
(135) Personal interviews, Dubai, June 2006; Reuters, May 9, 2005.
(136) Personal interviews, Beirut, November 2006.
(137) Paraphrased from unclassified document AFGP/2002/603856 located at the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Also see Scripps Howard News Service, February 28, 2006.
(138) Personal correspondence, March 2007.
(139) This statement appeared on the As-Sahwah website in 2005.
(140) This statement was made in March 2005.
(141) These closures took place in late March 2005.
(142) Personal correspondence, March 2007.
Dr. Davidson is a fellow of the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University. He is a former assistant professor of political science at Sheikh Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, and serves as a strategy consultant in Dubai. He is the author of The United Arab Emirates: A Study in Survival, and most recently Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success.
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|Publication:||Middle East Policy|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2008|
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