Violence the price an open city pays

The high-profile killing of a Hamas leader in Dubai is just one example of aggrieved parties conducting their dirty business in the Emirates.

As UAE authorities try to untangle last month's killing of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, experts warn that the country, one of the most open and diverse in the Middle East, offers plenty of room for foreign conflicts to spill onto its soil.

"There are a lot of nationalities in the UAE who you would think would leave their political and ideological troubles at home. But increasingly, they are beginning to show up here," said Dr Theodore Karasik, the director of research and development at the Institute for Near Eastern and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai. "There are many groups that take up their cause outside of their country and there are certain targets that are more attractive than others."

The Mabhouh case is just one example, experts said. Last March, Sulim Yamadayev, a former Chechen warlord, was assassinated in a car park beneath the Jumeirah Beach Residence. Eight days later, Dubai Police accused Adam Delimkhanov, a Chechen politician, of orchestrating the assassination. Not long after, seven Russians were added by the UAE to Interpol's wanted list in connection with the killing. The assassination is believed to have been in retaliation for Yamadayev's defection to the Russians.

In June 2008, police say, the Egyptian real-estate magnate and politician Hesham Talaat Moustafa paid Dh7.3 million (US$2m) to Mohsen el Sokari, a former state security officer, to kill the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim. That attack also was at Jumeirah Beach Residence. Sometimes, the UAE simply provides a locale for people who might not otherwise be able to express controversial opinions and make themselves known.

During the Iranian election dispute in June, for example, Iranian protesters took to the streets in Dubai, despite the UAE's anti-protesting laws. The peaceful demonstrations show how the UAE, which is home to 218 nationalities, has become a microcosm of the world, said Justin Crump, director of threat intelligence at the London-based Stirling Assynt International Group. But in other instances, collaboration can be much more sinister. In July 2009, two Chinese Uighurs were arrested here, accused of plotting to bomb Dubai's DragonMart. Public prosecutors in the Federal Supreme Court charged the men with terrorism based on their anger at the Chinese government. Although DragonMart is not Chinese-owned, it is the largest trading centre of Chinese products outside mainland China.

If the plot had been successful, it would have been "a blow to the Chinese economy", said Mr Crump. "International events will spill over here simply because of where the UAE is situated in the Gulf," he said. "The UAE is a meeting place for many people, and while most are legitimate, there will be illegitimate business deals inevitably. - That's the consequence of being an open society." For many conflicts, it is often easier to attack a perceived nemesis, fundraise and even recruit abroad than at home, experts said. And foreign action has the potential to bring more attention to the struggle.

The most effective way to quell these threats, Mr Crump said, "is intelligence sharing between countries". "The good news is that the security forces in the UAE are on top of that," Dr Karasik added. "They are able to mitigate and break up foreign nationals who come here with another agenda." myoussef@thenational.ae