Revealed: the plot to blow up DragonMart

Two Uighur terrorists created homemade explosives from legal materials and were just weeks away from completing the bomb.

DUBAI - JANUARY 10,2010 - Dragon Mart at Hatta- Oman road in Dubai. ( Paulo Vecina/The National )
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ABU DHABI // Two men who plotted to blow up the DragonMart retail complex in Dubai were only four weeks away from creating a powerful explosive using legal and easily obtained materials. The bombers followed the correct procedures to make explosives and a detonator, they had carried out a successful test and if the plot had not been uncovered the impact would have been destructive, according to court papers released yesterday.

Mayma Ytiming Shalmo, 35, and Wimiyar Ging Kimili, 31, both Uighurs from the minority Muslim ethnic community in the Xinjiang province of western China, were each jailed for 10 years last week for planning the bomb attack and being members of a terrorist organisation, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). If the plot had succeeded it would have been the first Uighur attack outside China in what a security expert described yesterday as an "extraordinary" strategy.

The materials used by the bombers to make explosives included concentrated sulphuric acid, nitrol (used to treat angina), acetone (an organic solvent) and nitric acid. "The manufacturing of homemade explosives is a relatively simple process and with the exception of detonators, the majority of the necessary ingredients can be obtained legally," said Paul Burke, managing director of Middle East Security, a counter-terrorism expert and a former intelligence officer. "Potassium-based explosives have been a popular choice for homemade devices, and hydrogen peroxide has been a long-time staple ingredient."

The court was told that the device, if successfully detonated, would have had an 80-metre blast radius. It was designed to destroy a waterfall and statue of a dragon outside the mall, prosecutors said. The Uighurs told police they intended the operation to be symbolic, to "draw the world's attention towards the Turkestani Muslims' cause in China". Shalmo told the court he was recruited in Mecca in December 2007, when he met a Chinese pilgrim who spoke to him about jihad against their country's government. He then travelled with the recruiter to Waziristan, Pakistan, where he joined an ETIM training camp. He received training on using weapons and creating explosives from commonly available substances.

A person identified in the documents as the deputy commander of the movement assigned him to carry out an attack against DragonMart. He told Shalmo he had been chosen by the commander of the movement. Shalmo entered the UAE through Dubai International Airport on July 28, 2007, from Islamabad. He then made two visits to the shopping mall. He left for Saudi Arabia in the autumn of that year and returned to the UAE by bus on December 22, 2007.

At that point, he found a house in Al Ain through Kimili. During one discussion between the two, Kimili showed interest in joining ETIM and carrying out attacks against the Chinese government. Kimili told the court that he later changed his mind because he feared his family could be hurt, but that Shalmo told him he wanted the chemicals only to use them for black magic. Because he spoke English, Kimili accompanied Shalmo to pharmacies, stationery and paint shops to buy the materials. Shalmo told police he received US$10,000 wired from Turkey by a member of the movement.

State security police were tipped off in June 2008. The police raided Shalmo's house in Al Ain on June 24, 2008, and found the chemicals and a digital scale for measuring them. "The procedures that the defendants followed in order to create explosives and a detonator were correct procedures," an expert at the Armed Forces' chemical laboratory told the court. "It would have taken between 15 days and four weeks to create explosives. Had the process not been interrupted, an explosive would have had a destructive impact. "

The expert also told the court a person needed training to be able to create explosives using those chemicals. Their lawyer, Abdulazizi al Ameri, told the court the men had confessed to police out of fear, invalidating the evidence. The court rejected that argument, writing that their fear was not caused by any physical or psychological coercion by the police. Mr al Ameri also told the court the that men had merely considered creating a bomb, and that the chemicals were commonly available at any market.

The court ruled the attack was aimed at the UAE because DragonMart is owned by the property developer Nakheel, which is owned by the Dubai Government. Dr Theodore Karasik, the director of research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said the planned attack would have been the first by the Uighurs "outside their sphere of influence". "Choosing Dubai to carry out the attack was an extraordinary strategic choice," Dr Karasik said. He said the plot was probably inspired by calls from senior al Qa'eda ideologues, who in recent years had called on Muslims across the globe to support the Uighurs in jihad against the Chinese government. "They took up the cause based on that call," he said.

Mr Burke said the bombing of DragonMart would have generated immediate, wide-scale publicity for ETIM's grievances. "Such an attack would undoubtedly have an adverse impact upon the national reputation of the UAE," Mr Burke said. The verdict was issued by the State Security Court, and therefore cannot be appealed.