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Mr. Zarate added, “I also would not downplay the reality that for the sake of tourism and reputation, there is no desire on the part of any country to signal they are worried about a threat unnecessarily and that they are a target-rich environment.”

Kenneth Katzman, a senior Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service, said: “It is widely believed that the UAE government was turning a blind eye to the presence of some al Qaeda activity in the UAE, with the implicit promise that no terrorist attacks would take place there. This [arrest] is significant because it shows the UAE’s belief that it could prevent terrorist attacks this way was naive.”

Nonetheless, Emiratis have also been helpful to the U.S. in the battle against al Qaeda. In November 2002, UAE authorities handed over to the U.S. Abd Rahim al-Nashiri, a senior al Qaeda leader who is regarded as the mastermind of the bombing in Yemen in 2000 of the USS Cole. Al-Nashiri is one of three al Qaeda leaders the CIA has acknowledged to have waterboarded during questioning.

According to a May 2002 letter from al Qaeda leaders that was declassified in 2006 by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, N.Y., the royal families in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were explicitly threatened with attacks if their cooperation with the United States against al Qaeda continued.