United Arab Emirates

Overview:  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) advanced counterterrorism (CT) efforts in 2022 particularly in countering terrorist financing and in the international cooperation domain.  The UAE added one individual and five entities to its list of persons and organizations supporting terrorism for their role in supporting the Houthis in Yemen.  The UAE remained a leader on a global level in CVE narratives, supporting CVE education, and participating in and hosting international fora to promote tolerance and coexistence.  The UAE continued valuable support for CT efforts against ISIS, and in Yemen against AQAP, including providing support to local forces in CT operations.

2022 Terrorist Incidents:  Significant terrorist incidents in 2022 included these two:

  • On January 17 the Houthis attacked vital facilities in the UAE, using missiles and drones that set off explosions in the industrial Musaffah area near Abu Dhabi.  The attack killed three persons and wounded six others.  A separate strike caused a fire at the new terminal building under construction at Abu Dhabi International Airport, which briefly disrupted a small number of flights.
  • On February 2 the UAE Ministry of Defense announced on Twitter that it had intercepted three hostile drones in Emirati airspace, which were destroyed “away from populated areas.”  The Iran-backed Iraqi militia group Righteous Promise Brigades (Alwiyat al-Wa’ad al-Haq) claimed responsibility for the attack in a letter published on social media.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  The UAE implemented a new “Crimes and Punishment” law in January, updating the Penal Code.  The maximum punishments under the law for individuals joining terrorist organizations include the death penalty and life sentences.  The new “Countering Rumors and Cybercrimes” law that came into effect in 2022 criminalizes expression that “propagates or favors” terrorism, making it punishable with one year of imprisonment and a fine of not less than 100,000 Emirati Dirhams ($27,200).  Facilitating communication with terrorist leaders, recruiting followers, or promoting terrorist ideologies online may result in a prison sentence ranging from 10 to 25 years.

The State Security Directorate (SSD) in Abu Dhabi and the Dubai State Security (DSS) remained primarily responsible for counterterrorism law enforcement efforts.  Local, emirate-level police forces, especially the Abu Dhabi Police and the Dubai Police, were the first responders in such cases and provided technical assistance to SSD and DSS.  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.

As in previous years, the UAE worked closely with the United States, through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to improve its border security posture.  Information sharing between the Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Division and DHS Investigations helped counter transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  The UAE is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), and its FIU, the United Arab Emirates Financial Intelligence Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group.  The UAE is also a member of the regional Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC).

The UAE was added to the FATF “gray list” in 2022.  In February, FATF reported that the UAE made a high-level political commitment to work with FATF and MENAFATF to strengthen the effectiveness of its Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regime.  Since the adoption of its mutual evaluation report in 2020, the UAE has made significant progress across its recommended actions to improve its AML/CFT regime, including by finalizing a terrorist financing risk assessment and creating an AML/CFT coordination committee.  The UAE also established an effective system to implement targeted financial sanctions (TFS) without delay, significantly improving its ability to confiscate criminal proceeds and engage in international cooperation.  The UAE also provided additional resources to the FIU to strengthen analysis and provide financial intelligence to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to counter high-risk money laundering threats.

In September, U.S. and UAE officials launched the AML/CFT Working Group to formalize existing bilateral technical cooperation and AML/CFT capacity building.  In October the Executive Office for Control and Nonproliferation issued updated guidance on TFS for financial institutions, virtual assets service providers, and designated nonfinancial businesses and professions.  In December, the Central Bank of UAE issued new AML/CFT guidance for Licensed Financial Institutions (LFIs) in the insurance sector.  The guidance requires LFIs to conduct enterprise risk assessments, perform enhanced customer due diligence practices, and maintain transaction monitoring systems aimed at countering illicit activity.

In collaboration with other TFTC member states, the UAE in June sanctioned 16 individuals, entities, and groups affiliated with a variety of regional terrorist organizations, including IRGC-QF, ISIS, and Boko Haram. The UAE also updated its domestic terrorist sanctions list in February to add a U.S.-designated IRGC-QF and Houthi financier and five related entities.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2022 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Volume 2, 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, including by hosting meetings of the Global Coalition to Defeat-ISIS’s Stabilization and Communications Working Groups in November.  The meetings focused on the threat of violent extremism in the Arab world, support for stability in liberated areas, rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, and CVE communications efforts.  In addition to being a founding member of the GCTF, the UAE continued to support Hedayah, an international center of excellence for CVE and a GCTF Inspired Institution based in Abu Dhabi.  Hedayah carried out CVE programs and research projects around the world, including a U.S. Department of State-supported countermessaging effort for religious and community leaders in Tunisia.  The UAE also hosted the Sawab Center to counter ISIS messaging and online propaganda by ISIS and ISIS-affiliated organizations.

International and Regional Cooperation:  The UAE led or was actively engaged in a range of CT cooperation efforts within international, multilateral, and regional organizations and groupings that align with U.S. and like-minded policy priorities.  Relevant UAE engagements are highlighted below:

  • In February the UAE hosted the Targeted Financial Sanctions Summit 2022-Countering Terrorist and Proliferation Financing, with participation from GCC countries, a UN team, UK representatives, and a U.S. delegation, among others.
  • In October the UAE participated in the High-Level Conference on International and Regional Border Security and Management Cooperation to Counter Terrorism and Prevent the Movement of Terrorists, which was held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
  • In November the UAE participated in the “No Money for Terror” ministerial conference on countering the financing of terrorism, held in New Delhi.

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