DUBAI (Reuters) - United Arab Emirates has detained at least four Emirati Islamists after saying it was investigating a foreign-linked group planning “crimes against the security of the state”, relatives and activists said on Monday.
Family members said those detained included Mohammed al-Mansouri, head of the Islamist group al-Islah (Reform), which has been the target of a crackdown in the UAE.
“My father was arrested this morning around 11:30 in the souk in (northern emirate) Ras al-Khaimah,” said Mansouri’s son Hassan, adding he did not know his father’s current whereabouts.
Interior Ministry officials were not available for comment.
UAE, a major oil exporter, allows no organised political opposition. It has avoided the political unrest that has toppled four Arab heads of state since last year thanks in part to its cradle-to-grave welfare system.
But it has also moved swiftly against dissidents, stripping citizenship from Islamists whom it deemed a security threat and issuing jail sentences to activists who called for more power for the semi-elected advisory council.
Authorities remain concerned that the growing influence of Islamists in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia could embolden Islamist groups at home.
On Sunday, the state news agency WAM said prosecutors had ordered the arrest of a group that aimed to commit crimes against state security and challenge the constitution. It said the group was “subordinate to foreign organisations and agendas”.
The brother of Khaled al-Shiba, one of the men arrested following that announcement, said he believed his sibling had been targeted for his links to Islah, echoing the comments of others who said their relatives had been detained.
The UAE last year stripped seven Islah members of their citizenship, saying they posed a threat to national security and were of non-Emirati origin.
Another of the arrested men, Abdul Rahman al-Hadidi, was questioned and detained by security officials at Sharjah airport on Sunday night on his way to Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, his wife told Reuters.
“We were going to the Umrah (pilgrimage) with our daughters and they stopped us at immigration. Then they took my husband and locked him inside a room and started questioning him,” Hadidi’s wife Badriya said by phone. “Then security officials confiscated his mobile phone and took him away.”
Activist said Hadidi was involved with Islamist groups.
Rashed al-Shamsi, also affiliated with Islah, was arrested by security officers who searched his residence in Dubai early on Monday, a relative said.
Activists said as many as seven people with Islamist connections had been arrested since the WAM report. It was not clear whether all of those were UAE nationals.
Relatives of three other people said to have been detained could not immediately be reached for comment.
The arrests are the latest in what activists describe as a crackdown on political opposition in general, and Islamists in particular. Some of the people detained over the past year had demanded greater power for the Federal National Council.
Islamists in the UAE say their ideology is similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but deny any organisational links.
Analysts say Islamists are aiming to tap into unease among UAE’s largely conservative citizens at having become a minority in their own country, most of whose 8 million people are foreign workers.
The economic boom in Abu Dhabi and Dubai has given the seven-member UAE an average per capita annual income of $48,000, but has also brought what some see as unwelcome Western influence.
Additional reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Kevin Liffey