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Halliburton execs may face more terror threats in Dubai Print
By GREGORY KATZ -  March 14, 2007 - Houston Chronicle

LONDON — Halliburton executives transferring to the company's planned new headquarters in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will be moving to one of the safest places in the Middle East but will still face an increased risk from terrorists, experts say.

Dubai has not been attacked, but terrorists have used it as a transit point and also taken advantage of its open financial system to launder money there, according to security analysts, press reports and congressional statements.

Some of the money used to pay for the Sept. 11 attacks was funneled through Dubai to the hijackers.

The threat against Halliburton is likely to be increased, security analysts warn, by the company's high-profile support of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and its close ties to the Bush administration.

"The threat level will be greater because of their involvement in Iraq," said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism specialist at the Swedish National Defense College. "They may be a target. They will have their own security people protecting them, and they will not broadcast their movements throughout the region."

He said the company will probably try to avoid publicizing its presence in Dubai in the non-Western press to avoid attracting unwanted attention from al-Qaida militants looking to drive out American and British companies. The terror network has been active in nearby Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Tightly controlled place
Despite the instability in the region, Ranstorp said Dubai authorities have managed to maintain the booming city-state's reputation as a safe place to do business by exercising strict vigilance over Dubai's borders and airports.

"They have relatively good control over the movement of people, and they have special screening methods that involve biometrics," he said. "It's a pretty tightly controlled environment. There are many other large consultancies and private military companies based there. I wouldn't be overly worried."

During the recent boom years, it has become common for visiting American oil executives to travel in and out of Dubai without taking special security precautions, said one retired manager who has made several business trips there.

In a recent "risk analysis" report about security in the Persian Gulf, the international firm Kroll concluded that there is a threat of terrorism in Dubai but that the risk is measurably lower than in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.

The report says that Dubai and the UAE are protected by a large, modern, security force that has a tight grip on the overall situation despite giving the appearances of being an open society.

Nonetheless, the presence of hundreds of Western companies in Dubai may inflame Islamic militants, the report concludes. It warns that the terror activity against Western targets already seen in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar could at any moment spill over into Dubai and the other Persian Gulf countries.

"Just because other states don't suffer frequent terror attacks does not mean the threat is not there," it says.

Used for logistical support
Cal Temple, vice president of the Terrorism Research Center in Virginia, said his firm advises clients thinking of moving staff to Dubai that terrorists use the city-state for logistical support for their operations but not to conduct attacks.

He said its airport — with frequent links to north Africa, southwest Asia and the rest of the world — and its open banking system help terrorists use Dubai for financing operations and for transporting personnel. This is tolerated by Dubai's rulers because they don't want to make an acceptable situation worse, he said.

"What would be the trigger to transform Dubai from a logistics venue to an attack area?" he said. "If the government were to round up known and suspected al-Qaida folks there, that would change the nature of Dubai. If they are compromised there and have little left to lose, then they might use it as a platform and begin attacks."

He also said state-sponsored terrorism is a concern because Iran might choose to attack symbolic U.S. targets inside Dubai if the U.S. military targets Iran in a bid to destroy its nuclear program.

Suspects arrested
Overall, however, he said the movement of a prominent American company to Dubai is "reasonable" and should not be more dangerous than a move to Manhattan, which has a worse crime rate than Dubai and is obviously being targeted by terror groups.

Terrorists suspected of committing crimes in other countries have been arrested inside the UAE.

Among them are a Pakistani accused of training thousands of terrorists at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan and a Saudi accused of helping to plan the bombing of the U.S. destroyer USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

In addition, a renegade Pakistani scientist is accused of using a Dubai company as part of a secret plan to provide nuclear technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

These incidents were all cited by U.S. congressmen who last year derailed the plans of a Dubai-based company to take over a number of U.S. seaports.

Very little difference
Despite these incidents, consensus has developed among security analysts that it is relatively safe for American companies to do business in Dubai, especially in an era when New York and London have been shown to be vulnerable to sudden terror onslaughts.

"In terms of being able to protect a company or a building from terrorism, there's very, very little difference between a building a Dubai and a building in Houston, as 9/11 clearly showed," said Bob Ayers, an international security expert at Chatham House, Britain's leading think tank. "I would love the chance to move there."
 
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