By Yara Bayoumy
DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates said on Thursday it had arrested a seven-member cell linked to al Qaeda that was planning attacks on the Gulf oil and business hub, the second time this year it has alleged a concrete threat from the militant group.
The UAE, an important military, counter-terrorism and business partner of the West, said the seven were Arab nationals who had been helping al Qaeda with recruitment, financing and logistical support.
"The cell was planning actions to target the country's security and the safety of its citizens and residents, and was carrying out recruitment, and promoting the actions of al Qaeda," WAM said.
"It was also supplying it (al Qaeda) with money and providing logistical support and seeking to expand its activities to some (other) countries in the region," WAM said.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has been spared an attack by al Qaeda and other militants; some analysts say the groups find it too useful as a communications and financial hub.
But in December, the UAE said it had arrested a cell of Emirati and Saudi Arabian members of a "deviant group" that was planning to carry out militant attacks in both countries and other states. The term "deviant group" is often used by authorities in Saudi Arabia to describe al Qaeda members.
Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan told a local newspaper in January that some of the group had links to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which uses Yemen as a base for international operations.
There was no immediate word on whether Thursday's arrests were related.
Some of the emirates have seen a rise in Islamist sentiment in recent years, and in the past year the federal government has started to crack down on alleged sympathisers of Islamist groups such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
A court in Abu Dhabi is currently trying 94 people on charges of plotting to seize power.
Speaking to Reuters this month, Khalfan reiterated allegations that Egypt's Brotherhood was linked to the alleged plot, saying the group's goal was Islamist rule in all Gulf Arab states.
Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdullah said Gulf countries were being targeted by al Qaeda because it considered them to be agents of the West.
In 2010, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said it was behind a plot to send two parcel bombs to the United States. The bombs were intercepted in Britain and the UAE emirate of Dubai.
The United States has poured aid into Yemen to stem the threat of attacks from AQAP and to try to prevent any spillover of violence into Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.
In August 2012, Saudi authorities arrested a group of suspected al Qaeda-linked militants - mostly Yemeni nationals - in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has arrested thousands of suspected militants since militant attacks between 2003 and 2006 on residential compounds for foreign workers and on Saudi government facilities in which were dozens of people were killed.
Like a number of other Gulf Arab states, the UAE buys large amounts of American military hardware.
It also shares some of its military bases with detachments from the armed forces of the United States, Australia, France and South Korea, according to the British-based think-tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
More U.S. Navy ships visit the UAE port of Jebel Ali, which can handle vessels up to the size of nuclear carriers, than any other port outside the United States, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
The UAE's Al Dhafra Air Base hosts a number of U.S. fighter, attack and reconnaissance aircraft, CSIS said.
(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by William Maclean and Kevin Liffey)