Seven men arrested last year on suspicion of planning attacks in the United Arab Emirates have been jailed for belonging to an al-Qaeda network and aiding its affiliate in Syria.
The Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi acquitted two others on trial in the same case, the official news agency WAM said on Monday, adding that they were Arabs rather than Emirati citizens.
The UAE said at the time of the arrests in April 2013 that the men were Arab nationals who had been helping al-Qaeda with recruitment, financing and logistical support.
The nine men on trial were accused of supporting Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate battling Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
Other charges included forming an al-Qaeda cell in the UAE while two of the defendants were accused of setting up websites to spread al-Qaeda’s ideology, WAM said.
Six were jailed for seven years; one was given life.
Two of the defendants sentenced to seven years were also fined one million UAE dirhams ($272,300). All of them will be deported from the country once their sentences are served.
The sentences were handed down in absentia to one of the defendants, WAM said.
Local media said the man jailed for life was the one not present at the trial.
The Gulf Arab country, a federation of seven emirates including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has been spared an attack by al-Qaeda and other armed group.
One of the region’s most politically stable nations, largely thanks to its oil wealth and generous welfare system, the UAE has seen none of the violent turmoil that has shaken other parts of the Middle East and North Africa in the past years.
Still, over the past few months, the federal government has cracked down on alleged sympathisers of Islamist groups such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, now banned by the Egyptian government.
In January, 30 Emiratis and Egyptians were convicted of setting up an illegal branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced to up to five years in jail. The Brotherhood says it only engages in peaceful protests.
In December 2012, the UAE also said it had arrested a cell of Emirati and Saudi Arabian members of a “deviant group” that was planning to carry out violent attacks in both countries and other states.
The term “deviant group” is often used by authorities in Saudi Arabia to describe al-Qaeda members.