Neighbors / Beyond Banks and Hotels

The Egyptian tycoon, Hisham Talaat Moustafa, former chairman of the largest real estate company in his country and a close associate of President Hosni Mubarak, must surely be enjoying reading in his jail cell about the assassination in Dubai of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Two years ago he too was behind a hit in the Gulf emirate.

Moustafa hired a security guard who worked at Sharm el-Sheikh's Four Seasons Hotel, which he owns, to murder the beautiful Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in her Dubai home.

The hired killer, Muhsen el-Sukkari, did not need electricity or a hypodermic syringe loaded with poison. He bought a long knife and after depositing in his account the $2 million that Moustafa had paid him, he slit Tamim's throat. Her murder and the assassination of al-Mabhouh create the impression that it is easy to enter Dubai without fear, to slay someone and to leave. However, if Dubai is such a convenient place for liquidating people why have there not been large-scale terrorist attacks there so far? After all Dubai City is the only place in the Gulf where Western behavior is widespread. Alcohol flows freely, Western performers appear there often and religion is pushed into a forgotten corner.

True, last year Western intelligence services published emergency warnings that al-Qaeda was planning to carry out an attack in Dubai and a terror cell that was apparently affiliated to al-Qaeda was apprehended in a neighboring emirate but these threats appear insignificant in the face of al-Qaeda's proven ability to hit at much more complex places than Dubai.

Dubai's services

One of the explanations for the relative immunity of Dubai is that it is the bank for everyone and no one wants to harm "his own" bank. Among the terrorists who have enjoyed the banking services of Dubai are Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi, one of bin Laden's "financiers" who withdrew $ 15,000 from a Dubai bank two days before the September 11 attacks in the United States. Another was Marwan al-Shehhi, one of the hijackers of the planes on 9/11, who received $100,000 from another bank in Dubai.

In fact, half of the money al-Qaeda spent on carrying out the 9/11 attacks were sent to the perpetrators in the United States through Dubai banks and according to Western intelligence sources the banks in Dubai also launder the funds of other terrorist organizations.

A report published this week in Egypt related the story of members of an Islamic terrorist unit cell who murdered four Copts in 2008 and are currently standing trial. The head of the group, Ahmed Shaarawi told his interrogators he had succeeded in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through the Internet from donors in the Gulf states "who support our jihadist ideas."

The money was transferred by banks in Dubai and the organization used it to buy a plot of land and to build a structure where booby-trapped cars were rigged to be exploded by remote control.

Hezbollah likewise uses the commercial services of Dubai. That is where it carries out diamond deals that provide the money for some of its activities. The diamonds are brought across the borders from Africa by Lebanese dealers who have authorized businesses in Dubai and who also carry out weapons deals on behalf of Hezbollah.


Dubai is not just a bank, however. According to unofficial figures around 3,000 Iranian companies are registered there, some of them government corporations, and they carry out major deals through Dubai, sidestepping international sanctions placed on Iran. This includes arms transactions.

A report from the Iranian opposition says Tehran has set up a huge reservoir of gasoline in Dubai in case additional sanctions are imposed. American businessmen also do good business with Iran via Dubai.

Dubai also holds a significant position in the realm of nuclear commerce. The father of Abdul Qadeer Khan - the progenitor of Pakistan's nuclear bomb - has aknowledged that he set up a secret company that with the help of a firm from Dubai supplied Iran, North Korea and Libya with nuclear technology. The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed al-Baradei, has pointed to the United Arab Emirates as one of 20 countries involved in the nuclear black market.

In 2008, the official Iranian news agency reported that trade between the United Arab Emirates and Iran stood at $12 billion. The forecast is that this year it will reach $15 billion. While the UAE supervises bank activities closely and Iranian citizens have great difficulties getting loans there, there are nevertheless local partners prepared to step in.

Were the arms deals that al-Mabhouh reportedly did with Iran part of this vast trade? Is this also the way in which other organizations carry out their acquisitions? There is no reason to think differently. When one quarter of the residents of the Gulf states are Iranians there will always be plenty of agents who are prepared to do the deals, if not out of ideology then for profit.

It is doubtful whether National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, who participated two weeks ago in an international conference in Abu Dhabi, spoke to his hosts about the close cooperation between the emirates and Iran. It is possible also that he forgot that Elhanan Tennenbaum was abducted from Dubai in 2000. By the way, Tennenbaum's kidnappers used a similar method to that believed to have been employed by the assassins of al-Mabhouh. In Tenenbaum's case, however, they administered an anesthetic instead of the unidentified substance injected into al-Mabhouh's body.

Be that as it may, if one ignores the occasional killing here or there, the weapons deals and the ties with Iran, the emirates are surely most enjoyable to visit.

One must just choose the right hotel.