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UAE to try 41 people on charges of seeking IS-style 'caliphate'

State media reported that over three dozen people will face terror charges in the Gulf state of the UAE
Islamic State group fighters running towards a power plant in the southern Libyan city of Sirte (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates is to try 41 people for allegedly seeking to overthrow the government to set up an Islamic State group-style caliphate in the Gulf state, prosecutors said on Sunday.

Such mass trials on terrorism charges are rare in the UAE which has largely been spared the militancy that has hit other Arab states.

The suspects, who include Emiratis as well as foreigners, are accused of setting up a group "with a terrorist, takfiri (Sunni Muslim extremist) ideology," in a bid to "seize power and establish a caliphate," the prosecutor general said.

They are accused of setting up cells to train members in handling weapons and the manufacture of explosives in preparation for attacks on UAE soil.

Prosecutors charge that they were "in contact with foreign terrorist organisations... to help them achieve their goals."

The UAE is part of the US-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes against IS in Syria since September last year and has upped security measures since the wave of Arab Spring protests that swept the region four years ago.

The prosecutor said that the alleged IS cell was highly organised, operating under a "hierarchy" to recruit young Emiratis, obtain weapons and manufacture explosives, and spread IS propaganda.

An Emirati human rights activist told Middle East Eye that they were sceptical about whether this trial would meet international standards.

“This group of defendants are most likely the Salafis arrested around October 2013,” they said.

“They were kept in secret detention for about 16 months before being transferred to a public prison. We have reported many cases of torture and ill treatment that have taken place in secret detention – if there is evidence against someone there is no need to imprison them secretly.”

“This trial will no doubt resemble the UAE 94 case, which was described by human rights groups as a mockery of justice.”

In the country’s largest ever political trial, 69 out of 94 defendants were sentenced to prison terms of between seven and 15 years in June 2013, in a case known as the UAE 94. Defendants – many of whom were from local Muslim Brotherhood group al-Islah – were accused of plotting to overthrow the state.

The defendants denied all charges and said they had been peacefully advocating for the autocratic Gulf state to become a constitutional monarchy. Human rights groups documented fair trial violations and raised concerns about allegations of torture, all of which was repeatedly denied by Emirati authorities.