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Murder Of American Teacher In Abu Dhabi Shocks Nation


Police in the United Arab Emirates say they have arrested multiple suspects in the murder of an American schoolteacher. Ibolya Ryan was stabbed to death in the bathroom of a shopping center in Abu Dhabi. Officials say one suspect admitted the teacher was targeted for her nationality alone. NPR's Deborah Amos is in Dubai, in the UAE, and joins us now. And, Deb, what have officials told you about this attack?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Officials describe an attack in a mall bathroom on Monday where the perpetrator waited 90 minutes before Ryan walked in - all of this during regular shopping hours. UAE officials released a surveillance video. And what you see is a woman, presumably, and she's dressed from head to toe in black, including a covering over her face. She's got on black gloves. You see shoppers noticing her. Police also released a six-minute highly-produced video with music of the arrest of that woman and others. And all this came 48 hours after the crime.

CORNISH: Now, officials have said this attack was designed to sow chaos. But they steered clear of calling it an outright terrorism case. How come?

AMOS: A murder in a mall is shocking here. This is an island of stability in the region, and it's the height of tourist season. The deal here is pretty straightforward. The Emirates put stability and security above free-speech, democracy. A mall murder upsets the model. It unsettles international residents, which make up 90 percent of the population here. And also, many here say a woman attacking a foreigner is unheard of.

CORNISH: There are also reports that an Arab-American doctor was targeted. Police actually diffused a bomb on his front doorstep. Is there a sense that this is the work of a lone suspect?

AMOS: The police talk of multi-arrests. But when they released that video, you really mainly saw the woman. So it's unclear if this is a cell. She's a citizen of the UAE originally from Yemen. In recent weeks, the U.S. Embassy has issued warnings after a radical website encouraged followers to target American teachers. There was no explicit threat which makes these kind of cases difficult for security agencies. They have learned how to disrupt terror cells. But these so-called lone wolf attacks are much harder to track.

CORNISH: Is there a sense that these lone wolf attacks are coming more often? I mean, I ask because this brings to mind two incidents back in October - the shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, and the hatchet attack against New York policemen.

AMOS: Well, there have been isolated cases. There was also the French tourist in Algeria. There was an American and a Dane targeted in Saudi Arabia. And now this murder in the UAE. This all comes after the spokesman of the Islamic State, the radical group in Syria and Iraq, called on supporters to kill Westerners and anyone from any country that joined a coalition against the Islamic State. Now, that was in September. The UAE is a prominent member of that U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. And terrorist experts say that this latest attack is one of inspiration rather than direct communication. Then that means there's no order from any militant group, so it's much harder to anticipate, much harder to disrupt.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Deborah Amos in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Deb, thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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