Overview: The United Arab Emirates advanced counterterrorism efforts in 2020, particularly in the field of countering terrorist financing. U.S.-UAE security agencies continued to finalize a new information sharing memorandum of cooperation to make travel safer. The UAE seeks to be a leader in countering violent extremist narratives on a global level, supporting CVE and participating in and hosting international fora to promote tolerance and coexistence. The government continued to apply restrictive laws as part of its security and counterterrorism efforts. NGOs and other observers criticized these laws as overreaching and as having the potential to stifle political speech. The UAE continued valuable support for counterterrorism efforts in Yemen against AQAP and ISIS-Yemen, including support to local forces in CT operations.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in the UAE in 2020.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In May, the UAE passed a law to protect witnesses of crimes, to include witnesses of terrorist activities. In October, the Cabinet issued Resolution No. 74 and relevant resolutions defining the roles of the Supreme Council for National Security and concerning the UAE list of terrorists and implementation of UN Security Council decisions relating to preventing and countering financing terrorism and leveraging nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The State Security Directorate (SSD) in Abu Dhabi and the Dubai State Security (DSS) remained primarily responsible for CT law enforcement efforts. Local, emirate-level police forces, especially Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police, were the first responders in such cases and often 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 Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Division and DHS Investigations helped counter transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups. The United States and the UAE, to prioritize and strengthen long-term response for proactively detecting, deterring, and preventing terrorism, transnational crime, and other threats to border security, signed an information sharing memorandum of cooperation that demonstrates a shared commitment to facilitating lawful international travel.
According to press reports, the Federal Appeal Court’s State Security Court examined 4 terrorism-related cases in 2020, in comparison with 14 in 2019. Most cases involved defendants accused of promoting or affiliating with UAE-designated terrorist organizations. In February the Federal Supreme Court sentenced an individual to 10 years in prison, followed by deportation, for carrying out arson for the purposes of terrorism at a site of worship.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The UAE is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. The UAE is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS CIFG and the TFTC.
In collaboration with other TFTC members, in July, the UAE sanctioned six individuals and entities affiliated with ISIS terror-support networks in the region.
In April, FATF published its Mutual Evaluation Report of the UAE. The report identified that the UAE’s AML/CFT framework requires major improvements to demonstrate that the system cannot be used for money laundering, terrorist financing, or the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The report noted, however, that UAE authorities do investigate and prosecute terrorist financing offenses and activities to a large extent. The UAE must show progress in specifically defined areas to avoid being placed under increased monitoring by FATF.
The UAE took steps to strengthen its domestic AML/CFT regime. The government created a ministerial-level body in August to monitor the National Strategy to Combat Money Laundering and Counterterrorism. The UAE also published Cabinet Decision No. 58/2020 requiring all new and existing UAE companies to maintain a register of “Real Beneficial Owners” and transmit the information to the relevant regulatory authority. In September the Central Bank (CBUAE) announced the introduction of a mandatory registration framework for informal value transfer systems known as hawaladars. In September the UAE also rolled out a new case management software named “Fawri Tick” to investigate and enforce proliferation and terrorism financing violations.
In October, CBUAE imposed administrative sanctions on two exchange houses, fining them for having “weak anti-money laundering and combating [of] financing of terrorism compliance frameworks.” In November, CBUAE issued the “Stored Value Facilities Regulation” that sets out AML/CFT procedures and requires licensees to exercise due diligence when onboarding customers and continue to report suspicious transactions.
According to official media outlets, the Ministry of Justice in November suspended the licenses of 200 law firms for one month for noncompliance with AML/CFT requirements. In response, 193 of the 200 law firms rectified their compliance shortcomings, which resulted in a lifting of the imposed suspensions. Seven of the 200 firms failed to implement the necessary corrective actions, resulting in a $27,250 fine (100,000 dirhams) from the ministry.
Countering Violent Extremism: The UAE government continued to play a leadership role in global efforts to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment. The UAE hosts the Sawab Center, a bilateral partnership with the United States to amplify credible voices to counter terrorist messaging online and continued to support Hedayah, the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism. Prominent UAE officials, religious leaders, and think tanks continued to publicly criticize and highlight the dangers of what they viewed as terrorist narratives, most notably that of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE designated as a terrorist group.
International and Regional Cooperation: The UAE participated in AML/CFT workshops with the European Union and the United Kingdom. The UAE also supported the Blueprint of a Rehabilitation and Reintegration Center, which was co-presented with the United States on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Source: “Country Reports on Terrorism 2020,” U.S. State Department, (December 16, 2021).