ABU DHABI // The UAE has avoided major terror threats that effect much of the rest of the world because of the diligence of its security services, an intelligence researcher said.
Mark Birdsall, editor and managing director of Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine, commended the UAE's security services in a lecture on the Future of Intelligence in the 21st Century at the Emirates Centre For Strategic Studies and Research.
"There are sleeper cells in the UK ... I have been to Al Qaeda bomb factories and met Al Qaeda operatives in the UK," he said.
"I have no doubt that there are people in this brave country who want to work for Al Qaeda and may already have connections to them. There are 2,000 known Al Qaeda operatives in the UK, supported by a network of 20,000 people, according to MI5."
And Mr Birdsall said that the UAE was not immune to that sort of activity. "I can only praise the UAE security services for their robust response and how they performed in recent years," he said.
Last month, UAE security services arrested seven men for allegedly being part of a terrorist cell linked to Al Qaeda.
Authorities said that the group was planning to carry out acts that undermined national security and the safety of the people of the UAE.
The cell was said to be recruiting members and promoting Al Qaeda's agenda, while providing the global terrorist organisation with funds and logistical support.
Experts said the unrest in the region had created new breeding grounds for militant youths and more such arrests were expected across the region.
Mr Birdsall, who has been editor of the magazine for 13 years, told the audience tha,t despite advancements in technology, terrorist organisations were still finding ways to disrupt peaceful nations by finding loopholes or reverting to old spy tradecraft methods.
On Syria and the rise of Al Qaeda there, Mr Birdsall said he did not believe the Assad regime perpetrated the Aleppo chemical attack on March 19.
"I do not believe the Syrian regime used chemical weapons to attack because it is an excuse for America and the West to directly engage militarily," he said.
"I believe that it was perpetrated by either a rogue group of individuals, terrorists like Al Qaeda or even the opposition, to force the hand of the West to intervene in Syria."